Dance Under the Influence

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Coming in March to Dance Under the Influence:  “Hip-hop Decadance Theatre presents a thrilling mash-up of street dance and ballet” 

NEXT MONTH, NEW York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) again mounts it recently inaugurated Dance Under the Influence series, and audiences are already buzzing. The series, as described by one observer, “explores the point at which craftsmanship, art and design intersect in the visual arts today.”  One of the city’s most thoughtfully curated programs of cutting-edge movement- and body-based art, Dance Under the Influence has been particularly welcomed for taking place not in New York’s outer reaches but in a central location—and moreover for representing the growing trend among visual arts institutions to include contemporary dance among their presentations.

The vision behind Dance Under the Influence is that of curator, editor, author, and "dance activist" Valerie Gladstone, who has spoken of the “cross-disciplinary perspective” that MAD audiences bring the work she presents—a perspective, she says, that's both “perceptive and refreshing.”  For further insight, we spoke with Gladstone recently.

CLASSICAL TV:  Valerie, what is your vision behind Dance Under the Influence and what are your goals for the series?

VALERIE GLADSTONE:  I want Dance Under the Influence to attract new audiences to dance, and expand the experience of dance for connoisseurs. I also want to give choreographers another space to perform in New York. Dance and the visual arts have always been connected but I think the connection can never be overemphasized. Holding the performances in a museum, surrounded by art, resonates with choreographers and dancers as well as with audiences.

By programming a variety of dance – contemporary, tap, ballet, flamenco, Indian, hip hop, voguing, and even adding puppetry to the mix this year – I hope that those attending programs see something they have never seen before and appreciate the artistry in the works and in their creation. I make a point of presenting both veteran choreographers like Ronald K. Brown, Heidi Latsky, David Parker, Molissa Fenley, Stephen Petronio and Susan Marshall, and relative newcomers like Souleymane Badolo, Zack Winokur, Rashaun Mitchell, Decadance Theater and Blakely White-McGuire, so a full spectrum of dance is available to all who attend the performances.

From the beginning, the Talk Backs after the performances have been a big hit with performers and audiences. I sit on the stage with the performers and lead the discussion about everything from how a dance is made to how it feels to perform. Because of the intimacy of the theater and the informal nature of the talks, people feel very comfortable and engaged – and learn a lot.  Now hardly anyone leaves after the performances.

Dance curator Valerie Gladstone

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CTV:  How did you choose the name for the series?  I love that there is a resonance between the name and the classic police description of drunk driving, “driving under the influence.”

VG:  I have to give credit to Jake Yuzna, MAD’s manager of public programs, for the marvelous name. One of the ideas behind the series is the influence of art on dance, thus it is very apt. And I like the hint of things being a bit out of control, which of course, they always are.

CTV:  Can you tell us what makes New York such a good place for you to be presenting the series right now? I know the dance you present may come from around the world, but can you describe the kinds of energies and influences you see active on the dance scene here in this city now?

VG:  New York is vibrant with dance, from downtown lofts to Lincoln Center.  The universities’ dance departments, the dance studios, like Steps and Peridance, draw hundreds of people wanting to perform and choreograph. But it is also a very tough time for dance, as it is for all the arts, and dance makers need platforms to show their work. With less touring and many venues relying on programming big names and/or foreign companies, they have fewer opportunities than they had five to ten years ago. So a new space and a new series offers them a way of being seen here, and getting exposure to new audiences.

As for influences, I see many. As the world has gotten smaller and smaller and the arts and various dance idioms less segregated, choreographers have increasingly incorporated theatrical and “exotic” elements into their works, which they may never have considered in the past, whether it’s hip hop or kathak. I don’t mean fusion: I mean organic incorporation. Also, with less money to sustain troupes, choreographers now more frequently work project by project, changing their dancers accordingly. Though it can be a drawback, it can also give them a chance to work on a broader canvas.

CTV:  Why do you think contemporary visual art museums have begun to present so much new and emerging dance?   In New York, MoMA, the Whitney, and the New Museum are all doing more than ever, and now you are at the Museum of Arts and Design. What are the larger connections here among the programs and audiences of those institutions and the kinds of dance presented there?

VG:  The programs in the other museums are actually very different from mine at MAD. In their case, most of the performances are geared to the exhibitions and are often site specific and/or take place in galleries. The choreographers in my series present their works in a traditional theatrical environment.  I also present four artists on each program, so my audiences are exposed to more than one artist at every performance. But as I said before, audiences are very aware of being in a museum and the choreographers have all roamed the galleries; a few have made reference to exhibitions there in their works. Most choreographers in my series have asked if they could perform in the galleries. It’s their dream. I hope in the future, it might be possible. But the cost of insuring the spaces is now prohibitive.

CTV:  Your spring season, starting on February 22-23, looks very exciting!  What are some of the highlights of the season?

VG:  That’s a difficult question for a curator who is passionate about all the choreographers in her series. The first weekend, I love that audiences will see two great established women choreographers – Molissa Fenley and Dormeshia Sumbrey-Edwards, as well as exciting, young men choreographers – Zack Winokur and John Heginbotham, all on one night. I love that brilliant puppeteer Basil Twist will perform March 22-23, on the same program with the all women, Brooklyn hip hop group Decadance Theater, ABT’s fresh, young Studio Company and the humorous David Neumann. Then April 26-27 and May 17-18, elegant NYCB dancer Jared Angle premieres a new work, Sara du Jour camps it up, Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg employs film, Susan Marshall & Company delve into dark mysteries and Doug Elkins choreographs an exhilarating combination of breaking, voguing and contemporary dance. Two relatively young choreographers, Blakely White McGuire and Rashaun Mitchell, respectively, bring to bear their backgrounds in Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham on their intriguing and innovative dances, while Ramya Ramharayan blends Hindu tradition with a contemporary sensibility.

If you attend all the performances – and last year many did – you will come away with a very comprehensive understanding of dance today and be wonderfully entertained.

For more information about Dance Under the Influence at the Museum of Arts and Design, go here.