Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kickstarter, Fighting Gravity, and the Personal Touch

So, like all you artists out there, I am constantly inundated with crowdfunding requests from dancing friends using Kickstarter, Indiegogo and beyond.  The requests are all from friends that I know, love, believe in and root for, but they come like an onslaught.

I do love this new medium even with its many issues.  I have never been comfortable with the idea that artists must beg for money before we can even dream of booking a rehearsal space let alone take the great risk of creating something that might fail spectacularly.  Crowdfunding feels a bit more genuine when compared to the traditional appeal for grand sums from local businesses or the tried and true donation basket at the end of the show (yes, I believe in this method, but crowdfunding at least gives you the potential to appeal to someone other than your current audience).  Crowdfunding often gives you the opportunity to support or be supported in small ways by people who really believe in what you're doing.  It's all sorts of inspiring... but...

As someone who can't even pay her own rent at the moment, I am usually forced to ignore the request and try to volunteer for a show to give my support or spring for a ticket.  SO, when I was contacted from Fighting Gravity, a group I've never heard of and people I've never ever met, I thought, "Delete, delete, delete...wait... read more...", and I started thinking about what might make me donate, or just become aware of and share about a project that is not in my traditional medium of modern concert dance and not by a company I've followed over the years.  So I asked for more information.

Fighting Gravity , described as a "group of fraternity brothers" who perform "mind-bending black light performances from Virginia Tech to America's Got Talent"... "with a show that is by, for, and about our generation" seems to be following all the rules of successful crowdfunding: an exciting look, a catchy message, aggressive marketing, and engagement.  I got curious. How'd they get started?  Who are their dancers?  How'd they end up together?  What might my college students, who are interested in much more than just modern concert dance, learn from them?   They obliged and gave me the whole story which I have included below.  What did they get from me?  My interest and, obviously, I'm sharing it with you.  It also gives me and my students a little window into what it takes to create and support a show that is meant to please, inspire, wow, and woo the up and coming generation.

As a modern dancer and choreographer, I've taken a lesson from these folks.  If you are willing to share a personal story, you get investment of some kind, even if it's word of mouth.  And that's gotta be worth something.

Read on for their answers to my many questions and hear the dancers in the show share their thoughts:

Travis Dalrymple and Mike Matsumoto of Fighting Gravity

- How long did it take to get from doing performances with no pay to paying gigs?
    - Fighting Gravity didn't actually exist until our first performance on America's Got Talent. So we weren't established at all until after the show was finished. After AGT we went on tour for about two months with other acts from the show. As soon as that tour was over, we started receiving inquiries across the country and the world. So our first real paid gig was about a month or so after we got off tour. We know the route we've taken is totally crazy compared to most dancers or artists where it can take years to get paid for your craft - we weren't trained performers and what we were doing isn't traditional dance. But having worked with, hired or performed with real dancers, we are blown away by the dedication, talent and spirit of dancers and the dance community. That spirit is something that we hope comes across in our show. 

- What were your original ideas about your future versus now?
    - Our original plans were just like most other college students across the world, graduate and try to find a career within the fields that we were studying. Once we went on America's Got Talent that all changed completely. Ever since then we've been working with one goal in mind: our very own full length show in NYC. And then world domination. 

- How easy/hard is the day-to-day work?
    - The day-to-day work changes often. Some days it can be extremely stressful and other days it can be laid back. It's constantly changing, which is actually quite refreshing because it's always something new. Some days we're working on choreography, some days we're working on design, others we're building new props and painting. The best days are when we're performing. 

- How much time does it take to support the project? 
    - It's more than a full time job to support the project. But you make it work because it's your dream and a shot at creating something amazing for our generation. Things tend to pop up on short notice and you have to always be ready to handle a situation or make a call. You really have to be able to work at a moments notice.

- Do you have other income sources or it this full time? 
    - Some of us have multiple jobs and some of us work on FG full time. Luckily there's enough of us that we can be flexible and spread work across several people to accomplish our goals. It takes a lot of sacrifice - we've put everything we have into this. Blood, sweat, tears and blacklight! 

- What else does it take to get a new project off the ground?
    - It takes determination, desire, a lot of team effort and constant innovation. It takes work...lots of it. And a good amount of luck. You have to be ready to be told "no" - and then push on til you get the "yes" from the right people for the right reasons. You can't be afraid of change because when you work on large projects like a full length stage show, there are a lot of people involved and you have to be able to collaborate at all times. If it were easy everybody would have a show but the entire experience thus far, whether good or bad, has taught us so much about ourselves, the business, and the show we want to make.

The Dancers of Fighting Gravity

- What was your journey to becoming a professional dancer?
"Taking a chance and risking it all by moving to NYC with only a dream."
        -Leo Reyes

"I've been training my whole life to become a professional dancer. I always knew it was what I wanted to do. I'm from NJ so it was easy to access amazing classes and inspiration in a close by NYC."
        -Matthew Tiberi 

"I am from a competition studio growing up, and moved to New York City for college and for the amazing dance classes and training that the city had to offer while I was in school. Really trying to get the best of both the collegiate and dance worlds. I ended up auditioning and dancing for the television show on FOX, "So You Think You Can Dance," that propelled my professional dancing career into overdrive and I have been working professionally since then."
      - Melanie Moore

- Do you feel certain cities support dancers more? 
     Yes, dance and the arts in general are strongly supported in some cities and states, whereas that interest is almost non existent in other parts of the US. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Miami, Boulder, and Boston are among those we think are highly supportive.

- What are the challenges that an original show like Fighting Gravity present?
      Creating a full length, 75 minute, production out of some 90 second ideas has been a daunting, yet exciting task! Also, working with the various elements of the show like black light, illusions, multimedia, and audience interaction has been a challenge to create the precision and depth that we hope to achieve. 

- How long would a project like this run for you? Are you already looking for the next project?

       We are all hoping this show will take off, be HUGE, and run indefinitely! However, a smart dancer knows and as the saying goes, "You shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket." A dancer should always have something in the works, just in case their first choice doesn't follow through. (Even though we have a feeling this one will!!) In other words, we NEVER stop auditioning! 

The Fighting Gravity Company
photos by Caleb Sharp
 Cat Cogliandro, Reed Luplau, Jenn Freeman, Michael Ramos Sandy Shelton and company

photos by Caleb Sharp
 Michael ramos, Kourtni Lind, Ehizoje Azeke, Reed Luplau, Matthew Tiberi

photos by Caleb Sharp

Visit Fighting Gravity at www.Fightingravity.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What Am I Doing Here With 20 Year Olds? (Aging and Dance)

This lovely little piece recently came out in the Post about what Liz Lerman, that seminal figure in dance  known for mixing generations in her company and works, is doing lately and more specifically, how she's changing as a dancer and choreographer whose body doesn't spring right off the floor as readily as it once did.  Read the piece here.

This subject has been on my mind as I jump in and out of class and auditions in my new city of Washington D.C.  As always, I keep getting older, but the dancers in auditions stay the same age.  In my last audition, I was with one other dancer who approached my age and 9 others who were straight out of college.  This was the same in Chicago.  No judgement, just an observation.

As I interact with my fellow dancers around D.C., I learn that there "isn't much of a culture of taking class" among the working dancers here.  I found this to be largely true when I lived in Minneapolis back in the early 2000's.  I wonder if it has to do with the size of the city or, as my new friend intimated, a culture that has been created, or that dancers have fallen into.  I am reminded of what Zenon Dance Company Founding Artistic Director Linda Z. Andrews once told me about company member Greg Waletski: The reason he's been around so long (Andrews is not shy about releasing dancers who aren't up to snuff) and is so talented is because he takes class every day (company members got free class).  The way I remember him from my time in Minneapolis was that he had no ego about the day to day work it took to keep up technique and the humility it takes to do that work in public.  I really started paying attention to Greg and noticed a definite difference in the grounded and settled quality of his dancing.  This was a dancer you could trust to catch you.

This sense of consistency has been a mantra, a thread, a theme of my personal development over the last 4 or 5 years.  It's only been the last 4 or 5 years, because I battled against that culture of inconsistency.  That idea of "I've made it, now I can stop", or "I have rehearsal every day so I don't need class".  I've said it before and I'll say it again, rehearsal is not the same as class.  I really had to struggle with my own personal habits to find consistency in my movement practice, but once I did, low and behold, most of my chronic injuries fell away.  

Now, I don't make it to dance class every day.  I'm unemployed at the moment and my credit card has a limit that is looming near.  But, I move every day.  I take a free trial at a yoga studio, I find workshops, I give myself class, I try a new form of movement.  This consistency is what I use to keep my body moving.  If I take a few days off, I can't get off the ground.  I will keep dancing.  A long time.  This will be my fountain of youth.  

I refuse to stop.  Liz mentioned that "'the boomers are never going to let other people be on stage'",  they're saying "'No, this is my world'".  This won't be exclusive to boomers.  It won't.  This is the new cultural shift.  Just ask anyone in generation X, Y, or whatever the new one is called.  It's a little victory against ageism.  I look forward to being the next dancer to say, "I'm staying in the limelight.  So we're all just going to have to keep working together." 

I'm still interested in crazy physical feats, I'm still interested in subtlety, I hope to keep choreographing towards both ends and learning to teach towards both ends.  

The last musing that takes me into the rest of my day is this idea from Liz: "I have three dancers in their 50s, and I don’t think of them as older. I think of them as absolutely let’s-go-to-work. I am not treating them specially because they are older, the way I would have treated older dancers before." 

This I bet I'm guilty of treating older dancers "specially" (in that slightly patronizing way, as opposed to the "special because of the wisdom they hold" kind of way) because of their age.  I'm definitely going to take a look at this in my teaching and my dancing and see where it goes.

That's all.  Peace out.  I've got to walk the dog.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dance Classes and Auditions... Again

So, I just moved.  Again.  This time to Washington D.C. and I am starting once again to figure out where the dance is, who is doing it, how they're doing it, and why they might think I could be a good fit for their company.

I, of course, tapped all of my Chicago sources before my move to see if they had any advice.  They mentioned Dance Place, Dance Exchange, Danny Burkholder, and checking out what Baltimore might have in store.  Baltimore?  Isn't that, like, in a whole different state?  This was my first lesson about the DC area.  I'm not in the midwest anymore.  Going from state to state is really nothing when they're only a few miles apart.

So, I headed on over to the Dance Exchange for Friday class with one of the rotating cast of company members.  This Friday, it was Sarah Levitt and her gentle, body-psyche-friendly style of teaching.  We started with a partner exchange of skin/muscle/bone-level touch from stillness into movement, warmed up further with a unison phrase mobilizing the spine and some undercurves, traveled across the floor in a simple structured improvisation (which always makes me work the hardest) and ended with a more complicated unison phrase which you can see below (yes, I am the one in black... I wish they would've shown Sarah just a bit to the left, then you'd see what the phrase should ACTUALLY look like ;-)

This was a lovely way to end a week full of unpacking heavy boxes.  Another bonus was that the class was mixed ages, so I was able to see a variety of takes on the improvisation work.

Next up was an audition for The Collective, a Baltimore based dance company whose members work collaboratively to create dances.  The drive took me about an hour and twenty minutes, but it was my first time driving out of DC, and I am especially cautious when approaching an interview or audition.  Well, I got there in the knick of time, which was a miracle considering that The Collective is based in The Bryn Mawr School which is tucked into a residential neighborhood whose dance studio is wickedly difficult to locate.

The Collective's audition process was a Bartenieff-based class filled with structured improvisations.  I'm starting to see a trend here in this area.  I'm not complaining one bit, since I'm improv-trained, and I'm interested to see how many other classes are going to feel like this.

Overall, the process was pretty darn painless considering the hatchet cuts and cattle calls I got used to in Chicago.  The audition was populated with The Collective company members which helped give you an idea of what kind of mover they were looking for and it helped make the 10 of us auditioning feel the flow of a company class. Then they wrapped it up with a personal interview with the company and away we went!  I'll get an email next week sometime.

Up Next: Audition at the Dance Exchange on June 18th.  Hopefully I'll be dancing again soon!