On Saturday November 5th 2016, Fusionworks Dance Company presents their inaugural Northeast Choreographers Festival (NECF). A select handful of innovative modern dance choreographers, chosen from over fifty applicants nationwide, will be presenting their original works as performed by local dance company, Fusionworks.
Choreographers presenting work at the festival are: Lane Gifford (NYC), Gierre Godley (NYC), Jenny Gerena (AZ), Winnie Berger (NYC), Jessica Pearson (RI), Annamaura Silverblatt (RI), and Deb Meunier. This work will be performed in the NECF 2016 Public Performance at 8pm on Saturday November 5th at the Bishop McVinney Auditorium in Providence, RI.
I spoke to Deb Meunier, Artistic Director of Fusionworks Dance Company, about the NECF festival, the process, and Fusionwork’s mission as one of the longest standing modern repertory dance companies in Rhode Island.
What was the origin of this festival?
“Northeast Choreographers Festival, has been a huge attempt [one of the biggest in Fusionworks’ history in fact] it’s been over a year in the planning, and a whole year in doing.”
“A choreographer showcase is not a new thing by any means, it’s what we have been doing at Fusionworks for 28 years… We have always done my own works and purchased one or two works from somebody else. This festival is a bigger version of that model.”
Their initial intention for this festival was to reach out, “and I got a lot of applications, local, regional, and national. The furthest was from Arizona!”
This festival’s’ focus is on emerging artists.
“We are especially interested in emerging artists who are not famous, but my brain goes ‘Why not? They should be!’ They are very interesting artists, and part of our mission is to connect people in this community with people outside this community. What is going on outside of the Rhode Island scene? How do we connect them here?”
“Whether these choreographers are in-state or out-of-state, the other part of what FusionWorks is trying to do is to give them exposure. It’s almost impossible to get your work out there as a choreographer, to get a booking, and to get a masterclass. I want to open some doors for the “me’s” of the world, because I’m still doing the same thing, with my own work.”
With this in mind, they have been offering master classes at the 4 colleges in this area that have dance departments: Providence College, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island College, and Brown University.
“Here’s the bigger picture of working toward connecting our dance culture and providing opportunity to others, in this state and outside of this state.”
Who are the guest choreographers in the program, what are some of your thoughts about their work that we’ll be seeing in the show?
Five pieces have been set on Senior company, one piece on Junior company, and one local-choreographer will be presenting a work with her own dancer.
“They are all astounding and different!”
Winnie Berger, originally from Tucson, Arizona, she is a dancer and choreographer living in New York City. Winnie attended Fordham University and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s BFA program, receiving a dual degree in Dance and Theology. Winnie founded Mook Dance Company in 2014, a contemporary dance company with the mission of creating art that is “inspiring, reflective, dynamic, ethereal, and relatable to all individuals”. As stated by dance critic Jerry Hochman, “there’s a refreshingly vigorous lyricism to Artistic Director Winnie Berger’s choreography.”
Deb shared that Winnie “had heavy ballet training when she was younger, and is heavy in the contemporary dance scene. She taught an incredible master class over the summer! Her choreography is full of quick and flying leg work and sharp architecture.”
Jenny Gerena, is a performing artist and choreographer based out of Phoenix, Arizona. She is an alumna of Scottsdale Community College, Sam Houston State University, and Arizona State University, where she attained a Masters of Fine Arts in Dance in 2016. Her work has been presented at Phoenix nueBOX Artists Residency, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Florida Dance Festival, American College Dance Association, Arizona Dance Festival, Breaking Ground Dance Festival, and the Multi-Purpose Dance series in Soho, NYC.
“She was very much on the opposite spectrum… Jenny comes in with her earth momma, organic, roll on the floor, find your wrist bones, turn off the studio lights… We did the whole class without lights. Her work is so crazy different from the others.”
Gierre J Godley is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher currently living in New York City. He began his training in Arkansas and continued at the Ailey School, Millikin University (BS Biology, Dance Minor) and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (MFA). As a choreographer Gierre has created works for The Steffi Nossen Dance Company, The Ailey School, Threads Dance Projects, and the Tidwell Project Dance Ensemble. In 2010, Gierre created PROJECT 44, an all male company dedicated to showcasing the beauty of male artistry throughout the arts. The group has been presented in various venues around the US and in international venues in Berlin, Montreal, Barcelona, and Manchester, England.
“He is Ailey trained and trained from a place of traditions. Coming from the traditions of Horton, Limon, and Graham, he’s doing his own thing teaching from those bases. In his class, pretty much out of the gate, everything was moving, even tendues and brushes, everything was moving across the floor. Really wild! His music choice was also varied and exciting with all kinds of motown, punk, and hip hop.”
Lane Gifford is Artistic Director of LaneCoArts, a New York based multi-arts company that “examines the intersecting relationship between dance, theater and the visual arts.” Their mission is to “create a rich and dynamic dialogue that fuses a distinctive movement aesthetic, deep emotional exploration and stimulating visual and dramatic components.”
Ms. Gifford first studied dance at The Boston Conservatory in Boston, MA. She received a BFA in dance performance and an MFA specializing in choreography from The Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College. Lane Gifford currently is a Wingspan Arts teaching artist, offering multi-arts movement classes to children in New York City’s public school system.
“She has returned to the organic, lay on the floor, find your ankles… Her work is very theatrical!” Fusionworks has bought her piece The Garden, Deb gushed “it’s so beautiful.” She went on to describe Gifford’s process as “wild.”
“In the residency. She kept changing it, and adjusting it to my dancers; their bodies and their brains, which I honor. It was a tough residency in that way because many times they went in and it was changed (as far as sequence) as she kept trying to hone in.”
Deb has found that she connects with Gifford as a peer, “Working with her and talking to her as a director and choreographer – she’s not a newbie, she’s been on the planet for a while, but she’s not jaded in any way. She has a very kind and open heart.”
Jessica Pearson is Assistant Professor of Dance at Rhode Island College. She is a dancer, educator and choreographer who has toured throughout the United States and Canada, dancing with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Gesel Mason Performance Projects, and Concepts In Motion Bermuda. She has taught at the Ballet West Summer Intensive, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, and various schools across the U.S. and abroad. Her work has been presented in both the Southern Vermont Dance Festival and Ballet Inc’s “The Series: Vol.1” in NYC.
“Jessica Pearson, is setting a fabulous piece on FusionWorks 2, the student company. She is one of the local choreographers, she teaches at Rhode Island College, she will be teaching a master class at Brown in December.”
Anna Maura Silverblatt, is another local choreographer whose work is being presented in the festival. “Annamaura’s work for this festival, Metamorphosis melds dance and theater equally. Her rendition of Franz Kafka’s main character, Gregor, is beautifully portrayed by dancer Nancy Reed.”
“She’s been a long-time supporter of Fusionworks, and I am so psyched that she’s going to be a part of the festival.”
The Selection Process
“My dancers say, I have an eye to ask people, pick people before they are famous.” She picked up Robert Battle when he was a young choreographer, pre-BattleWorks. “I saw David Parsons’ work, and there was a piece by one of his dancers, Robert Battle. I thought, ‘oh this is interesting!’ I called him up and ended up purchasing The Hunt. We had it for 10 years before he became the new Mr. Ailey.”
So for NECF, “we couldn’t choose someone who is a legend, who has a significant amount of exposure.” They sent out a call to artists to submit pieces with certain guidelines: maximum of 6 dancers, between 6-15 minutes, existing works, etc. “We got over 50 submissions, which is a lot for the first time out!”
“It was overwhelming for me, the person making the decision,” she felt for these artists. “I was so deeply zapped because of how many times I’ve sent my own work out and have gotten rejected. I know how horrible that feels.” Mindful of this reality for so many that she needed to tell thank you, but no, “We sent a very kind letter but it was painful, it was hard.”
What has the process been like for the choreographers you invited?
“The freedom end of it, is in the process…”
Deb says that there are two ways in which she gives freedom to the choreographers. First, when the choreographers come to set the work on FusionWorks, “I don’t pick the dancers that will be in the piece, I have the dancers audition for them in a masterclass/audition.”
This allows for evolution within the company, the choreographers “may see a dancer who I see in a whole different way, they may use a dancer who has never been used!”
“This is my process. I believe it’s a process of growth, in the long run.”
The second element of freedom for the choreographers was the ability to “make changes in the process.” She would tell them that “the essentialness of the work has to remain, but if you want to make changes… to make that dance more alive on our dancers, please feel free to do so.”
“I don’t want to lose the core integrity of the piece at all, but like I said earlier, Lane, in her process, was making changes on the last day. Changing, Changing, changing, so the essence of the piece (The Garden) lives but it lives more in my dancers’ bodies.”
“I think it’s a really good process. The choreographers each have their own aesthetics so it works out that all the dancers are being used in different ways. It worked out perfectly!”
FusionWorks has been an integral part of the Providence and Greater Rhode Island dance community for over 28 years. Deb and her cohorts are passionate about the vitality of the dance scene here and expressed how important it is for the community to support the arts. “Even if I leave something and it doesn’t really work for me, it gets me reflecting on my place and my voice… and isn’t that the idea in making any art?” Their dedication to supporting emerging artists, enriching the community with new voices, and making it as affordable and accessible as possible all ring true through all the diverse programming of NECF. “I’m not interested in just looking at myself all the time, in my little world, which is just a speck of dust in the scheme of things.”
NECF 2016 Schedule
Thursday, November 3: Advanced Modern Technique w/ Gierre Godley
3:30-5:30pm at Roger Williams Dance Studio
Friday, November 4: Intermediate/Advanced Modern Technique w/ Gierre Godley
5-7pm at Brown University Ashamu Dance Studio
Saturday, November 5: Intermediate/Advanced Contemporary w/ Winnie Berger
1-2:30pm at Providence College Dance Studio
Friday, December 2: Intermediate/Advanced Modern Technique w/ Jessica Pearson
5-7pm at Brown University Ashamu Dance Studio
Saturday November 4
8pm at Bishop McVinney Auditorium, Providence, RI
General Admission: $35
College Students, Seniors, and Groups: $25
Dance Studio Group Discount:
$15 tickets for groups of 10 or more dance students.
$22 tickets for any/all arts professionals.
To use this code, visit the event link, click “Tickets”, click “Enter promotional code” & type in the code. Once the code is entered, the name of the discount will appear at the top. This is not a group discount, so any number of tickets can be ordered at once; there is no minimum.
Article by Meghan Carmichael