DanceWatch Weekly: New Expressive Works

Subashini Ganesan's New Expressive Works project funds another round of new dance

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).


Photo courtesy of New Expressive Works.

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.

The Budget

  • 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
  • Videographer–$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
December 2-4
New Expressive Works, Studio 2, 810 SE Belmont St (In the WYSE Building)

See above.

Upcoming Performances

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

6 Responses.

  1. Abby Nace says:

    I really appreciate all that information as a hopeful dancer in Portland. I would like to make dancing more of my career focus – in teaching, performing, choreographing, and sharing with the community and beyond, without going completely dry financially. Having one dance hub, like Conduit was, but with even more support this time from all the dance companies in Portland, and surrounding artists, is I think the next step. I wish each director and dance leader in our community could get together and discuss this. I do think that, regardless of everyone’s differences, we need to come together more as a community…I’m not sure what that might look like but that’s what I think. And now I want to go on a tangent about why I think dance is important and you can decide to stop reading here if you already understand why dance is important.
    I believe dance is undervalued in our American society in general. It is interesting that music is valued more, specifically listening to music, than watching dance or dancing. I believe dancing is as natural an expression, to do and watch, just as music is to play and listen. In other places around the world, they seem to value the two more equally. But that’s another discussion…Anyway… Every dancer/athlete/movement artist, or just physically active person understands how good it feels to move. But our culture is widely chair-sitting, computer-driven, and car-reliant…Where the body does not have to get up and go. I think people are really “away” from their body a lot of the time, and dance is the opposite. Dance is not only connected to movement in the body. It is also connected to our emotions, spirit, intuition, beliefs, and when you get into it much, much more. It has the power to heal, provoke, inspire, and connect people to each other. This long explanation is just meant to remind myself why I chose to dance in the first place. It brought me joy, a healthy relationship with myself, and a way to share my authentic self with others. I know dance is not for everyone in the same way that it speaks to me, but I believe it should be more available and practiced in our society….And there is no reason why Portland should not be like Seattle and other cities that at their least have a supportive hub for professional dancers to work on this issue. I only see (and hope) that this will happen in Portland, because it just makes sense if Portland is going to move forward in its dance scene.

  2. BodyVox commissions eight local choreographers to create work on our JAG Company (Junior Artist Generator) every year. These works are performed in our home theater with full production in front of a paying audience.

    • Thanks Jamey for responding to this article. Choreographing for students is different than choreographing for professional dancers in a professional company. Lots of professional dancers choreograph for dance students everywhere. Teaching and choreographing in private dance schools is how the majority of professional dancers make a living.

  3. BodyVox also commissioned eight Portland Creative Artists to collaborate with the company on choreography for the Pearl Dive Project in last year’s season. Each of these pieces was a laboratory for invention and innovation. BodyVox also offers our studio theater to emerging choreographers at very reasonable rates to produce and present their work to the public.

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