The Joyce Theater's Visionary Linda Shelton

By Dionne, Alexandria | Dance Magazine, April 1998 | Go to article overview

The Joyce Theater's Visionary Linda Shelton


Dionne, Alexandria, Dance Magazine


NEW YORK CITY--Linda Shelton is not only a dancers dancer, but an audience's audience. On any given night at New York City's Joyce Theater, you can be sure that the rising curtain will reveal titillating and versatile choreography. Shelton moves behind the scenes at the refurbished art deco movie house as its executive director. Her commitment to presenting provocative and diverse companies has made the Joyce one of the preeminent dance theaters, earning it national as well as international attention.

The Joyce is an integral part of dance in New York. The brainchild of choreographer Eliot Feld and Cora Cahan, the 472-seat renovated theater opened in 1982, in large part due to contributions from LuEsther T. Mertz, after whose daughter the theater is named. "Our idea was to make a theater . . . where dance would flourish," wrote Cahan in a book commemorating the theater's tenth anniversary. Since 1985, more than eighty companies have leapt across the stage in annual seasons presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation. In addition, the theater offers a subsidized rental program, which provides a midsize and affordable venue in which modern, ballet, ethnic, and tap dance companies can perform.

The Joyce Theater's dedication to dance is represented in its director. In 1993, Shelton became the Joyce's helmswoman. Working with a budget of just under $4 million, she oversees the theater's programs designed to help small companies, and, with Director of Programming Martin Wechsler, selects the varied companies to be presented each season. "I really believe in artistic investment," says Shelton. "if you're not investing in the product, then we'll have an artistic deficit. We need to make sure that our services to these companies continue."

Shelton's empathy for dancers can be attributed to her introduction to the art form, which started the same way it does for any dancer--in the classroom. Her entree into the dance world began at age ten in modern-jazz classes in Totowa, New Jersey. Wanting to learn more, she let her fingers do the walking and found the Eddie Verso School of Ballet in Oakland, New Jersey, where she studied ballet with Joffrey Ballet's Verso and Janet Mitchell. But, ultimately, as Shelton says, "They said I shouldn't give up on college." Heeding their advice, Shelton went on to get a degree in dance education from New York University. With B.A. in hand, she was still unsure how to parlay her love of dance into a career. But in 1981, she landed an internship with the New York State Council on the Arts Dance Program, and worked there under the tutelage of Dance Program Director Beverly D'Anne. "From the beginning she was completely committed to the [dance] field," says D'Anne, who has been with NYSCA for the last twenty years. "She was always interested in administration and management, and with her great attention to detail and her conscientiousness, I think she's a perfect fit for the Joyce. That's why I recommended her for the job." Working with D'Anne and in the grant-making environment exposed Shelton to the hardships dance companies experience finding funds and to the vast amount of money necessary to get a company out of the rehearsal studio and onto the stage.

Through the internship, Shelton met renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who needed an extra administrative hand to help run her company. …

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