Photo by Fringe Arts.
In order to create new work, choreographers need two things: time and space. Most dancemakers have to choose one or the other, resulting in less than fully realized work. The leadership at Dance Source Houston (DSH) understands this, and has created a residency program to meet the community’s needs.
Last season, DSH executive director Stephanie Todd Wong launched the first round of the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program, which included free rehearsal space at DSH’s headquarters at the Barn, along with an opportunity to show work during the Barnstorm Festival. “It’s exciting to see these artists take time to process work and for the public to witness the evolution of creation,” says Wong.
The first AIR residencies went to three outstanding choreographers: Lori Yuill, Alisa Mittin, and Joel Rivera. Each presented fresh new works during the run of the Barnstorm Dance Festival after completing their residencies. Yuill found the time valuable on several levels. “The DSH residency helped me take myself more seriously as a choreographer,” says Yuill. “Having a secured space helped me to keep a regular time in my schedule for (my own) dance making and the nine months allowed me to delve deep into the material I was investigating. It pushed me to think about the big picture, and helped me figure out how to simultaneously do some of the administrative work that you inevitably have to do as a choreographer.”
The number of artists expands to five this round. According to Wong, this opportunity enticed a larger number of applicants. “It was hard to narrow down this larger application pool. Scheduling availability and the desire to work with the Barn’s schedule were important decision factors.”
Wong has high hopes for these this round of AIR artists, who include Jacquelyne Boe, Amy Elizabeth, Laura Gutierrez, Jasmine Hearn and Autumn Knight. “I want new voices and new experiences, not necessarily a repeat of last year,” adds Wong.
In addition to free rehearsal space and a performance, the five artists will also have a chance to learn about production, marketing, and finance for the term. “We assist the artists in applying for HAA’s Independent Artist Grant, which they are required to submit,” says Wong. “We also tailor our workshops that are open to the community to the needs of the AIR’s. So this year, the group has been in discussion about a few topics that would be of interest and use to them. We work to develop the workshop, then make it available to the full community and the AIR’s attend for free.”
The idea is both to introduce artists new to Houston as well as support more established artists. Hearn maybe a native Houstonian, but her work is still relatively new to local audiences. She graduated with a BA in dance from Point Place University and has since performed in Philadelphia, New York, and Houston. She was also a standout performer in the Mitchell Center’s CounterCurrent’s Ten Tiny Dances and the first Barnstorm Dance Festival this summer with her compelling solo, mama, am I clean yet?
“Resources are so important,” said Hearn, when asked about grants and residencies for choreographers. As a freelance choreographer and performer working across the nation, Hearn relies on resources such as AIR, but she’s learned that not every community is able to provide financial and technical resources for choreographers. “A lot of of my work’s content relates to personal experience. Having a wide range of experiences has allowed me to connect with so many different people and put me in some unusual, beautiful, heart breaking, and crazy situations,” says Hearn. “I am planning to work on solo material for collaboration with other artists. It will be sentimental, sinuous, honey-like, water-like, emotional, my story.”
The residency is also meaningful to artists who are going through changes in their life circumstances and career. For Amy Elizabeth, both things were happening at once. Changing her last name, moving around the state, and reconfiguring her former dance company are just a few of the big events that Elizabeth has faced in the past few years. “I like to believe that these new changes will bring a redefined voice to my work,” she says.
Upon graduating from Sam Houston State University with a BFA and MFA in dance, Elizabeth set out to create work for her then professional company, Rednerrus Feil Dance Company. It was with Rednerrus that Elizabeth caught the public’s attention, and in 2013 she was named one of Houston Press’ 100 Creatives and Top 10 Choreographers in Texas.
“I find allowance in life with dance,” Elizabeth explains, “And this year will help reshape how I teach by exploring my new options in dance. To have the time as an artist to go deeper and invest in our art is a rare gift. I’m very grateful for this residency, and I hope the audience can realize it’s impact on the dance community. I hope to figure out what choreography is and what it means to me, while detaching from my assumptions and just experimenting.”
The great thing about AIR is that it’s flexible for artists at any stage of their career, whether they are just out of the choreographic gate or at a threshold stage of growth. Wong sums up the goals of the program. “We hope to support the future of all the artists involved and our staff at the Barn. We are all working together to develop workshops catered to their interests and open dance up to the community for a lasting impact.”