For Killing the Man in the Booth, You've Won ... « PREV | NEXT »: Collected Stories

March 20, 2010

In Far-Flung L.A., Fostering a Dance Community

This is part of a series on people and organizations that make it possible for artists' work to be made and presented.

Meg Wolfe is an experimental dancer and choreographer who moved to Los Angeles from New York City in 2004. Her work has been presented in L.A. at REDCAT (the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theatre at Disney Concert Hall), Highways Performance Space and elsewhere; and in New York at Dance Theater Workshop, The Kitchen and other prestigious venues. Her creative thinking extends beyond the dance studio and concert stage. The almost inhospitable environment toward dance in Los Angeles inspired Meg to a do-it-yourself attitude. Creating infrastructure where there was none (or little), she has become one of the most active facilitators of dance in town. She wears many hats: teacher, dance presenter, promoter, marketer, and more. Her various initiatives are now grouped under the organization Show Box LA. I asked her to talk via e-mail about how she began these projects and her hopes for them.

Can you tell us a little bit about the needs that you saw within the local dance community when you first came to Los Angeles, and how you think Show Box has helped? 

Well, the projects came first, and Show Box LA subsequently grew out of that as a sort of umbrella entity for the projects. I started [the workshop performance series] Anatomy Riot in 2005, itch Dance Journal in 2006, the DANCEbank classes in 2007, and more involved producing activities in 2008. So it's been a gradual accumulation of activities in response to the needs I saw here, as an independent artist not affiliated with a university. 

I didn't get a sense of a community [in Los Angeles], or that there was any dialogue happening. It seemed like there were pockets of isolated activity in the universities, but not much outside of that. There were not really any venues presenting dance, except Highways. REDCAT had just opened.


With Anatomy Riot, I started something that seemed like a really basic need to me, a place for people to get together regularly, to share works-in-progress in an informal way, to see a mix of work of other artists they might not know about, to meet each other!

itch Dance Journal, started with Taisha Paggett and Rae Shao-Lan Blum (with Sara Wolf now co-editing in Rae's place), was created partly in response to the dwindling coverage of dance in the newspapers/media, and to provide an outlet for more in-depth writing from dance artists. 

I started the DANCEbank classes because the high cost of studio rentals was prohibitive to anyone trying to start a class and build a following -- people were losing money just paying for the space rental, before they could build any sort of momentum with a class. I negotiated with various spaces around town to lower their rental rates as a service to the community. Later, I was able to get space donated for the classes, first at Metabolic Studio/Farmlab, and now at The Colburn School. All income goes directly to the teachers. 

So, Show Box LA to me seems about access to, and encouragement of, each other's potential, ideas, creating a forum for dialogue about making work, about working methods, about how we create in a really isolating environment. I feel like these programs have generated a sense of community cohesion that was lacking; and have opened up a space of possibility for other things to happen, for others to take initiative to make things happen.

What is the greatest need of dance artists in Los Angeles? 

AFFORDABLE rehearsal space, and support for research and development of new work.

What kind of production support has Show Box provided to other artists? 

Show Box has provided full production support, pairing local and visiting guest artists on shared programs -- promotion/press, technical support (lighting designer/tech/house staff).

This started as a practicality, because I had been making shorter works, under half an hour long, so I decided to do a shared program. In 2008, [for] the first program I invited Arianne Hoffmann (LA) and Faye Driscoll (NYC); the next was with casebolt and smith (LA) and Sam Kim (NYC); and in 2009, I shared a program with Karen Sherman (Minneapolis).

In the future, Show Box plans to present full works by other artists.

What's it been like for you working as an independent artist in Los Angeles? The experimental dance community gets so little coverage in the mainstream media. Does it feel as though you're working in a vacuum?

Well, I find the isolation can sometimes be a good thing, as it really puts you in your own head, creatively. But all of these programs I've organized were to combat that feeling of being in a vacuum, to create a sense that we are not alone, there is a community at work here. It may be a small community, and let's face it, experimental dance has always been a rather marginal activity, but we are here making work regardless of the lack of media attention. 

It is disheartening that the "Theater and Dance" section of the L.A. Times, as really the only mainstream news outlet in town, runs about one article on dance for about 30 on theater. But what can we expect from mainstream news, especially in an entertainment-driven city? We rely on each other to spread the word. It is definitely community-driven, DIY, word-of-mouth, e-mailing, Facebooking, blogging sort of outreach to get people to come see what we're doing.

How do you find time to do your own choreography? Do you think your work is affected -- for good or for ill -- by working on these other projects? How so? 

NOW1.jpgI have been prioritizing making my own work more over the past year, and I am just starting work on what will be an evening-length collaborative work. So I need to shift focus.

All of these other projects were designed to support artists, and that includes me, by providing a context and a community to be in dialogue with. I needed to build a supportive environment in which to place my work... and now that this environment is set up, I can get back to my own choreography! Working on these projects, although creative in themselves, has definitely been eating up a large chunk of my time and energy.

In order to streamline my other activities, I have been bringing in other people to help out and take over a bit, so it becomes a community effort; and I have started the process of setting up Show Box LA as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization... to start building infrastructure to keep current programs running, find some funding to support the work that I have been doing on a volunteer basis, and develop new ideas.

This past year, I took some time off from Anatomy Riot, and handed over the responsibility for AR to the community, to a team of guest curators, which freed things up for me considerably; and injected new perspectives into it as well. Early on, I was curating practically every show myself. It got pretty exhausting. I also took a break from editing work on the last issue of itch, and we're looking to bring in another person to help us out with that.

How would you like Show Box LA to develop? Your initial fundraising efforts are so modest -- $3,000. How is that going? 

Well, we have not actually put the fundraising call out yet, but I hope that the community will support Show Box LA! We've set a modest, reachable goal for our first fundraising efforts, to cover the costs of getting set up as a 501(c)(3), all the legal and accounting stuff that needs to be done. Considering that all of these projects have been operating on a no-budget, volunteer basis, it's a step up.

There are a couple of ideas that have been brewing that I'd like to see happen. I want to find a physical space that could be used as a home base for the current Show Box programs; and more far-reaching would be to provide artist residencies to research and develop new work for local and visiting artists. There are not that many residency opportunities available for dance (as opposed to residencies for visual artists, writers), and something like this would have national impact. I like imagining someone from New York or Chicago or Minneapolis coming here to work for a few weeks in the middle of the winter, for instance!

I would also like to expand presenting activities, as there is still not really a dedicated venue for contemporary dance in Los Angeles. REDCAT is wonderful, but they can only present a handful of dance artists each year, the scope of their programming is much broader. So I'd like to see Show Box LA grow to sort of fill in the middle ground between Highways and REDCAT.

Another dream: my friend Anna Scott recently planted the idea of a fleet of solar-powered taxis. There is wonderful discourse going on as people carpool across town, definitely an L.A. phenomenon.

Photos courtesy Meg Wolfe

Meg Wolfe in "is waiting shining," top; "Tender," center; and "watch her (not know it now)," bottom.

March 20, 2010 12:00 AM | | Comments (1)


Please keep me updated on ShowBox LA events. Thanks, Joanna

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