Sunday, December 20, 2009

Creating in Today's Climate - Ouch!

How to Create in Today's Pick-up Climate


I've learned over the past decade what it means to be a freelance choreographer, have a freelance company and juggle freelance creativity. No different than it was in the 1980's, only then, it was easy to get studio space. Now, there is a dearth of space in New York City - and you can never get anything spur-of-the-moment, let along a week in advance. I direct a big dance-Show benefit each year. Everyone knows, that benefits are perhaps the hardest thing to assemble - because everyone is donating their time. For some reason, under the circumstances, artists feel like they are entitled to behave unprofessionally such as not returning calls, showing up for rehearsals or canceling after making a commitment, and then simply not doing the gig they signed on for (understandably if it was in substitution for paid work). Creating something new is almost entirely impossible, not just in assembling artists busy with other things, but mainly to actually get the studio space to do so.

I decided to create a dance that was piece Mixing dance styles. A multi-disciplinary-cross-pollination of talents in a variety of dance genres. My Mix included a pioneer Street Dancer - Mr. Wiggles, a Tap Dancer - Jason Samuels Smith, a multi-talent - Anthony Bryant (Julliard graduate), an Acrobatic duet couple formerly from Cirque du Soleil - Sara Joel and Kevin Gibbs, pre-professional Ballet dancers from the Joffrey school, the New Jersey World Cup All Star Cheerleading group; a female Hip Hop group - TruEssencia, and a DJ - DPOne - who does Break Dancing, and a Drummer - Dylan Giagni, who Wrestles.

I started the rehearsal process working with Anthony, at the Julliard Studio’s in May – a couple of 2 hour days. Quickly we set steps with his baton, hoop, ribbon and ball. The composer, Miguel Frasconi, came in one day – to create music for one of his magic-bag-of-tricks dances. I taped what we did and set the time for when next to see him in August.

August involved 3 days – I booked and paid for studio space at Studio 5-2. But, they called the day before my first rehearsal claiming a ‘computer glitch’ and canceled my first rehearsal. Mr. Wiggles was flying in from Europe - for this week of rehearsals – and this was our first day. I e-mailed Studio 5-2 – saying that I “did not appreciate the computer glitch – and would remember not to book space with them in the future”. Scrambling for last minute studio space, I found something at the dependable New Dance Group (which no longer exists). No sooner did we confirm, that they called to say the time they thought they had was wrong. Since I had already e-mailed the group of dancers who all had their own individual work schedules and commitments, I tried to keep the hours the same - because I knew it would be impossible to re-schedule everyone at another time. With much effort, I ended up with less time and less space but at least some kind of space - at another studio.

The next day would be better I thought – we had space booked at Ailey – an even more dependable place, because they make you fill out medical forms, do a financial back ground check, and have to see your passport, birth certificate, drivers license, and take your finger prints, as well as check to see you have valid credit cards in order to book space. We were confirmed for - and paid for space each day from 12 – 2. Several dancers were called and confirmed the days and times. When I got to Ailey at 11:30 I was told we didn’t have space at all. After more research and phone calls, they discovered that we did indeed have space – from 2 – 4 p.m. - different then what the contract said I had with them. "Impossible, " I said – "we have an invoice that says otherwise". Needless to say, with much effort, they were able to squeeze us in somewhere for that day from 12 - 2, but not the other days.

My Cirque dancer assured me that not only would things come together, and that she could e-mail me a video of her partner (who wouldn’t be with us until a couple days before the event) on YouTube – so that I could pick and choose various Moves that he does --- that I might want to use, in the dance. Gee, choreography by YouTube. Maybe I could just pull excerpts from the various artists video's and make a film and project that instead of creating something new and "live".

Next I was to discover that Jason, would be in Hawaii the week before the show – meaning that I would have to finish and set the final version the week before that - and there was an issue with his Tap platform. Where would it "live" once he brought it in from New Jersey?

TruEssencia can only work only work in the evening – and the 3 Ladies had totally different work schedules to work around. The Cheerleaders could only come into the city in the evening – but at times to avoid the NJ traffic - and in a studio space with high ceilings for their "throw-lifts". The ballet dancers were not yet committed and Anthony joined a company for the Fall and had a limited time to be available for rehearsals. Part of the Cirque couple lived in NY and the other in Las Vegas. I'd have to find a day with Kevin was in NY to set the piece. The DJ was in and out of NY with a touring schedule, and the drummer arrives a week and half before. I will go ahead and get space anyway, I thought, and demand that they show up. That idea did not work.

All in all, the piece never came together until the actual show itself. That is when I saw it for the first time. Lesson? Don't do something new on a benefit unless you have a working company and your own studio space.

Oh, Jason's manager got me another Tap dancer to work with will he was gone, and we worked out with Andre at City Center to let the platform "live" there the week before the show. But, we could not take it downstairs from the studio directly -- into the backstage door of City Center or we would incur $1,000 in stagehand time. A rule of the theater, if performing artists are rehearsing in the complex building. We ended up avoiding the cost by having my assistants take the platform outside the building the morning of the show, and bring it back in the loading dock -- the next door down the street - to come into the building as a prop. By doing this we saved money.

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