June 2018 In Dance


2017 WAS A BIG YEAR FOR US, with our first large-scale domestic tour. Together with cho- reographers Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener we premiered Tesseract at EMPAC in Janu- ary and went on to have shows at the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, On the Boards in Seattle, and REDCAT in Los Angeles before a homecom- ing performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of their Next Wave Festival. With support from the National Dance Proj- ect we were able to travel the country with a work that had significant technical needs— Act 1 is a 3D film and Act 2 included live video capture and projection—and a large group of performers and crew. As General Manager I coordinated each leg of the tour: working with presenters, funders, and the creative team to organize over twenty perfor- mances in six cities. I loved traveling to new cities, experiencing working environments in different theaters, and getting to return to the same piece again and again. And yet, even amidst a successful, dream-come-true tour, it was hard—financially, administratively, and emotionally when we were away from home for weeks at a time. The rest of the team had more extensive experience touring, whether as part of stalwart dance companies like Merce Cunningham’s or Shen Wei’s, with huge Broadway productions, or smaller proj- ects with choreographers like Rebecca Lazier. Speaking with the team it became clear that touring in dance has changed dramatically over the past fifty years, shifting in relation- ship to funding structures, political climates, and artistic tastes. I set out with this article to explore when, why, and how touring has changed for American choreographers and dance companies, with an eye towards illu- minating the factors that made our experi- ence presenting Tesseract across the country an increasing anomaly. Tracing the changing tides of funding deftly illustrates the ebbs and flows of dance touring in this country, beginning with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965. The NEA immediately began to fund dance touring, with their first act sponsoring a national tour for American Ballet Theatre. Program Director June Arey started the Coordinated Residency Touring Program the following year, supporting four modern dance companies to travel through- out Illinois giving performances, teaching workshops, and offering lectures to commu- nities across six host cities. Following this initiative’s success the program grew each year, making the NEA the most important source of touring support for primarily mod- ern dance companies in the 60s and 70s, and nearly singlehandedly ensuring the rise of dance across the country, with the number of dance companies increasing exponentially over the next few decades. The NEA’s notable emphasis on local communities and building regional networks across states was matched by the emergence of Regional Arts Organizations and the cre- ation of the National Performance Network in 1985. Regional Arts Organizations started in the 60s with Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas banding together to support exchange and touring. These multi-state conglomerates were further institutionalized with support from the NEA in 1973, with ultimately 40% of the NEA budget being funneled to State and Region- ally-based funders who allocated it to local communities through re-granting processes. Some regions, like the Mid Atlantic, support travel abroad for their local dance compa- nies, with annual grants covering transport, visa, and housing costs. Other regional orga- nizations including WESTAF

(Western States Arts Federation) and South Arts bring groups from other regions to their areas, with South Arts launching a Dance Touring Initiative last year. The grants seem to be tipped in support of companies based in New York—giving them opportunities to travel abroad and to come to other venues across the country, rather than having each region provide equal support for their local companies to travel farther afield. In 1985 David White, then the director of Dance Theater Workshop, founded the Na- tional Performance Network to address what was then termed a “national dilemma: ar- tistic isolation and economic restraints that constrict the flow of creative ideas within and among communities, independent art- ists, and locally-engaged arts organizations in the United States.” Starting with fourteen

sentation of Alvin Ailey—billed as the “Cul- tural Ambassador to the World”—served to demonstrate the supposed freedom and tol- erance of the American people, even as the civil rights movement continued to demon- strate the abiding racism embedded within the United States. Employing a similar tactic, in 1979 President Carter founded the Inter- national Communication Agency to “pres- ent the diversity of American culture to the world and deepen our appreciation of other cultures.” Initially focusing its diplomacy in China, it quickly grew to encompass East- ern Europe and sponsored a series of perfor- mances organized by The Kitchen, including dance by Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane as part of the 1980 American Now exhibition in Bucharest, Romania. Its success led to sub- sequent multi-week tours organized by The

without support, leading them to increasing- ly reach out to larger organizations like NPN and the newly established National Dance Project (both of whom received re-granting funds from the NEA) for assistance. Created as a direct response to the NEA’s decline, the National Dance Project began as a regional program to support touring in New England in 1995 and quickly expanded nationally in 1996 to support the creation and production of work in addition to its touring and pre- sentation. In this climate of scarcity choreog- raphers increasingly began to work on more of a project basis, hiring dancers as needed for performances and working with admin- istrators who managed a number of artists. This sharing of resources and division of labor signaled the decline of the boom pe- riod in dance that was further cemented by

Sean Dorsey Dance / photos by Lydia Daniller

Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener's Tesseract / photo by Nathan Keay

organizations NPN created a network of presenters across the country, encouraging organizations to work together to support consecutive touring dates for companies. NPN continues to be a critical source of sup- port today, with currently 77 members in the network and new initiatives for international performances as well. In the late 70s and 80s dance touring in- ternationally grew rapidly, with increased government funding and foundation support presenting dance as an important vehicle of cultural exchange and diplomacy. Anna Kis- selgoff, writing in The New York Times in 1985, described the 1960s through mid 80s as a “dance boom”—a period of fervent ac- tivity with significant growth in the number of dance companies and viewers. She credited much of its expansion to government funding and increased touring that developed audienc- es across the nation while artists like George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham were at the heights of their creative achievements. Indeed, the NEA budget in the 1970s grew exponentially, expanding by 1400 percent throughout that decade as govern- ment charting of dance companies increased from 37 in 1965 to 157 in 1975 (which I would argue still seems low all around). During this growth period the government increasingly turned to dance as a vehicle for cultural diplomacy. Claire Croft details in her 2015 book Dancers as Diplomats: Amer- ican Choreography in Cultural Exchange the State Department’s sponsorship of Alvin Ai- ley’s tour of the Soviet Union in 1970, mak- ing the company the first American modern dance group to perform in the region. As the Cold War continued to intensify this pre

the deaths of significant choreographers and dancers (many of whom passed as part of the AIDS pandemic), the rise of European dance theater as the American imprimatur declined abroad, and increasing pulls on audience at- tention leading to declines in ticket sales. Nevertheless, there have been a number of new initiatives in the last five years that show increased support for dance touring, both abroad and locally. The State Depart- ment renewed its support for dance with the establishment of DanceMotion USA in 2010. Billed as “dance diplomacy for the 21st cen- tury” the program works with the Brooklyn Academy of Music to facilitate international residencies that focus on cultural exchange and engagement, with recent participants including Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Kazakhstan and ODC/Dance in Southeast Asia. Seeking to increase the pre- sentation of American choreographers inter- nationally, Andrea Snyder and Carolelinda Dickey founded American Dance Abroad in 2011. They host an annual symposium in the States to show international presenters American choreography, bring American art- ists and administrators to international mar- ketplaces, and provide crucial rapid response grants to help cover travel and visa costs. Meanwhile, both the National Dance Project and National Performance Network have be- gun to focus on local and regional efforts— putting in place systemic initiates like NDP’s Regional Dance Development Initiative and NPN’s Leveraging a Network for Equity that identify long-term strategies and build net- works amongst presenters, artists, and ad- ministrators in specific geographic areas.

Kitchen with government support across Europe with mixed bill programs that exem- plified the range of artistic practices (dance, music, theater, performance, video) that were regularly seen at its NYC home. Other American organizations also began to spon- sor international tours for dance, notably the Suitcase Fund based out of Dance Theater Workshop. Also founded in 1985 by David White, the initiative focused on performance and research abroad, facilitating cultural ex- change and research for artists and adminis- trators on a global scale. In the 1990s funding from the NEA dipped dramatically, and even as other finan- cial support structures rapidly developed to fill this gap, changing company structures and audience tastes led to decreased touring overall. By 1985 the Dance Touring Program sponsored by the NEA had stopped, and with the brewing culture wars of the early 1990s funding significantly declined. No- tably, changes in legislation mandated that the NEA could no longer grant to individu- als beginning in 1996. By limiting support to nonprofit organizations, independent, un- incorporated artists who depended on gov- ernment support to finance tours were left Anna Kisselgoff, writing in The New York Times in 1985, described the 1960s through mid 80s as a “dance boom” —a period of fervent activity with significant growth in the number of dance companies and viewers.

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