Dancing in Place: Site - Specific Work: Taking Dance outside the Theatre Creates Opportunities for Collaboration and Expands Choreographic Possibilities

Article excerpt

I believe in the accessibility of dance for everyone, everywhere. For decades, I danced in venues ranging from informal spaces such as a school gymnasium in rural Valley, Nebraska, where pivotal irrigation systems are manufactured--to quaint performance spaces such as a Paris attic atelier in the 18th arrondissement, where mint tea is popular and outdoor markets abound. Throughout those experiences, I have been guided by the writings of Barry Commoner, a renowned physicist and ecologist, who established the Laws of Ecology (Commoner,1971). The two that I will emphasize are "Everything is connected to everything else" and "There are no free lunches." These "laws" help to summarize my approach to making dances in specific settings.

I have observed the first law by spending countless hours connecting modern dance to all dimensions of my personal and professional life. Everything in my dance world is connected to everything else. Dance is my lifeline: my joy, my work, my passion, and my way of communicating. It is often my way of expressing, as Ruth St. Denis (n.d.) said, "... what is too deep, too fine for words." Dance is the common thread woven into all of my scholarly activity and my teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), where I have explored and investigated the wide horizons of a life in the arts and in academia.

My choreography reflects a collaborative approach that often uses site - specific elements as the catalyst for the movement design. This creative "virtual" space, as described by National Dance Association (NDA) Scholar/Artist, Theresa Purcell Cone (2007), is a "nurturing site" where multiple voices are encouraged and valued. At the core of my creative process is the compelling desire to make connections with other art forms, with social issues, with nondancers, with emerging artists, with a variety of disciplines, and with the community.

It is important to establish new alliances, to build audiences, and to make dance accessible to all. I have experienced an impulsive, compulsive drive to find places and spaces for dance to happen, whether it is for advanced - technique dancers or for persons with disabilities. This is my modus operandi, my raison d'tre, my meaning of life. Everything is connected to every other thing for me the link is through modern dance.

Commoner's (1971) fourth law, "There are no free lunches," in essence, is my guiding philosophy in creating work, one of quid pro quo. Let me find something in your endeavor that matches, intersects, or connects with my endeavor, and we will both benefit.

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My forays into site - specific work began with dances that I created for neighbor - hood playmates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on my terraced backyard. While other kids on the street were selling lemonade, 1 gave dance lessons and produced shows. Throughout the years, the sites for my dances became more sophisticated and expanded to the concert stage, the kitchen, the hospital room, the entranceway, the stairway, the pathway, the atrium, the amphitheater, the gazebo, the stadium, the escalator, the sidewalk, the polka hall, the clothesline, the rooftop, the neighborhood park, the museum, the garden, and the zoo.

I am inspired by Isadora Duncan's reinvention of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing," which she adapted to "I See America Dancing" (Cheney, 1969). Many times, when on a committee, in a board meeting, at a luncheon, reading the paper, emailing, or texting, I envision the topic at hand to metamorphose into a collaborative dance experience. I ask, "Have you ever thought of integrating dance into that (you fill in the blank)?" I might venture to say, "I clearly see dance as a part of your endeavor." Or, "I can make a dance for the groundbreaking, the kick-off, the inauguration, the fundraiser, the literary festival, or the art opening." I listen to the description of an event and gently guide the speaker to see how dance may enhance that endeavor. …