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Published on June 11, 2008
The Dance Enthusiast

© Catlin Cobb
Excerpted and abridged for The Dance Enthusiast

"Although Dance Across Borders began thirteen years ago, this floating cooperative festival continues to challenge the performance structures currently available in the dance world."

Photos courtesy of Catlin Cobb and Susan Osberg

Editors note:

Shortly after The Dance Enthusiast opened its website doors, the dancer/choreographer, Catlin Cobb, offered a piece about the inspiring “Dance Across Borders Festival”. She not only wanted to share the history of this artists’ organization, but also hoped to communicate the goings on at the most recent festival held at Bard College in the summer of 2007. Apparently no one else had planned to cover the event.

If a group of movement artists goes out into the forest (in this case Annandale- on-Hudson) and dances, and no one tells their story, is it as if they never danced at all? Are they invisible? Who and what in dance gets seen and talked about and why? If an artist’s work is not recognized, chosen, feted, or written about, does he/she cease to exist?

The story of Dance Across Borders reveals the courage of artists who refuse to be ignored. Not content with the limited opportunities for sharing work, the founders and participants of the Dance Across Borders Festivals create their own communities -- large and small. As Susan Osberg one of the founders of DAB says, “if we want something to happen, we have to do something.” Theirs is a tale of artistic responsibility -- a responsibility to the process and performance of dance and a responsibility to the creative endeavors of fellow artists.

This story should be shared.

Susan Osberg, Founder of Dance Across Borders, in an interview with Christine Jowers.

Susan Osberg, Founder of Dance Across Borders, in an interview with Christine Jowers.

Dance Across Borders- The History

In the imperfect world of contemporary dance, opportunity is scant and often elusive. Dance artists exist with little encouragement. YET, like elastic bands we continue to push, pull, tug, regroup and reinvent ourselves. “ How can we be in charge of our creative lives?” Surviving alone seems impossible.
With the desire for partnership, self-expression and artistic exchange, a “new model” for dance was introduced in 1995 – an alliance - Dance Across Borders.

Dance Across Borders (DAB) started as an alliance for independent choreographers wanting to present themselves cross culturally. The vision originated with dance maker Susan Osberg. Immersed in views of feminist writers, Osberg, considered theories of cooperative structures that existed in pre-patriarchal times and imagined the possibility of a cooperative for dance. Her vision was confirmed upon meeting Swedish choreographer Gun Lund. Lund, a member of a cooperative dance theater in Göteborg, Sweden, also wanted to foster a cultural exchange. Seeds were sown.

The first DAB Festival was held at Dia Center for the Arts (now The Joyce SoHo) in New York City. Joan Duddy, then the administrator of the dance program at Dia, and New York City choreographer Pat Cremins, joined Susan Osberg as U.S. founding members. They hosted choreographers and dancers representing the U.S., Canada, Sweden, France, Hong Kong, Holland, Estonia, India, China, and South America.

This initial experience set the standard for the group, emphasizing process, exchange, and community- a welcomed change in atmosphere from mainstream festivals. Teachers took as many classes as possible re-acquainting themselves with being students. Eventually the picture blurred as to who were the teachers and who were the students. The omnipotent role of the teacher was transformed into that of a facilitator. During the evening performances it was clear that what was avant-garde for someone from Estonia was not for someone from New York City. Judgment about what was “experimental” had to be suspended and replaced with an understanding of where the each artist was in his/her creative process. Dance was examined from various points of view - from exploration to awareness, discussion to comprehension, process to product.

Over the years, festivals of different sizes and formats have taken place in - Holland, France, Sweden, and Estonia. The venues have been varied: theaters, farms, Neolithic sites and Roman ruins.

Although Dance Across Borders began thirteen years ago, this floating cooperative festival continues to challenge the performance structures currently available in the dance world. The familiar structure is presenter and product driven, involving dance artists selling their work, or trying to sell their work to various presenters who decide to choose them or not. The market is extremely competitive. The fields’ limited financial resources can only support a handful of dance companies with funding and touring opportunities. Many artists are marginalized, yet dancers keep moving and creating.

DAB asks artists to step up to the plate - to create their own platforms and become their own presenters, but not without a community. The alliance maintains an approach founded upon specific guidelines created in the original manifesto:

DAB is a cooperative structure for international exchange, based on mutual respect for the integrity of different artistic points of view. How many borders can we cross? As many as have been set by different cultures, traditions, national interests, and prejudices. Dance Across Borders is our movement to open minds.”

The only rule is that participants must have been involved in two DAB festivals before they can initiate their own event. A festival initiator can choose their own participants and theme after submitting a proposal to the founders. Though the founders should be invited, it is not required that they teach or perform.

Dance Across Borders 2007 At Bard College

In June 2007, choreographer Susan Osberg, a member of the Bard College dance faculty, brought Dance Across Borders to Bard College as a three- week international dance festival/symposium.

“The Body Politic”, needing over a year to plan, was the largest DAB festival yet produced in the United States. Bard College facilities, with a-state-of- the-art-theater and new studios in the Frank Gehry designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, offered a high level of production value. More than eleven countries participated, even more nationalities were represented, and a broad spectrum of the art form was presented. Students, choreographers, performers, musicians, technicians became an intergenerational community spanning the ages of twenty-something to sixty-something. Daily communal meals, classes, and informal receptions provided space and time in which over seventy participating artists came to know each other. In a region where it was questioned whether there was an audience for “this kind of dance”, over one thousand audience members attended, and some had to be turned away.

The Body Politic As Explored By The Artists at DAB 2007

Body Politic. The Body and the Community. The Body, the Community, and the World. Twenty-eight choreographers free-associating with these themes delivered an alphabet of personal dance experiences.

“Experimental dance celebrates human courage,” announced Jean Churchill, Chair of Bard Dance in her opening remarks. Churchill’s presentation of The Cost of Living, a film by London’s innovative contemporary dance company DV-8, brought compelling evidence to her statements.

We witnessed one inventive and courageous dance moment after another in the performance of David Toole, a dancer without legs.

Jane Comfort, raised in the south of the USA, delivered a humorous discussion of female behavior and how we experience gender in dance.

Indian dancer, Uttara Coorlawala, explained working with yogic ideas of the body, and showing how the mind and body states are interlinked via breath, posture and hand movements.

Mireille Feyzeau of France and Julie West of Canada co-taught a workshop using sound to initiate movement.

Zack Fuller offered a slide show of contemporary Japanese dance performances at MinTanaka’s rural farm. He explained the western overuse and misunderstanding of the word ‘Butoh’.

Gun Lund and Lars Persson of Sweden described their new twenty-four square meter traveling theater called a ‘clone.’

Arthur Aviles, director of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD) in the Bronx, a gender bending multicultural alternative theater, shared the challenges of instituting an after school program for adolescents in his neighborhood.

I explained my epiphany of performing in a factory that makes toilets and the surprise moment of ‘becoming one’ with the ceramicists of Kohler, a leading manufacturer of bathroom fixtures.

Mid-career choreographers discussed how rehearsal time has changed. Sondra Loring and her dancers, all who have children, honor an hour and a half rehearsal as a precious jewel of time.

Dean Moss commented on the way one can continue a dance out of the rehearsal process, extending the boundaries of the studio into your daily life. “Just being with the dance partner informs the process and the creative experience”, he remarks.

Does the model of the dancer who takes class, then runs off to rehearsal where long hours are spent learning a vocabulary still exist? This seems to have been replaced by dancers who have more skills than just moving. Dancers now often collaborate with the choreographer’s vision or intention. The rehearsal process has changed. The choreographic process has changed and a more cooperative approach has emerged.

A Dance Across Borders Commission 2007

"We are human beings deeply, vigorously, stubbornly engaged in the vital role of being part of a dance community that has to survive somehow, against all odds" Dance Artist Muna Tseng, Participating Artist - in 2007 Dance Across Borders

DAB commissioned choreographer Noémie Lafrance to create a piece for students and draft work for her company SENS Production. Lafrance began work on two site-specific pieces: Rapture - Part 1 -A Topographic Experiment and Rapture- Part 2- Staging the Architecture of Frank Gehry. After a three-week residency both Raptures premiered.

Rapture Part 1 wasperformed on the lawn of the Ward Manor House Estate on the North Campus, and accompanied by the live piano music of Bard faculty musician, David Arner. With the Catskill Mountains in the distance and a grand piano nestled into the grass, the audience experienced layers of activity as seventeen students, using only pedestrian motion, crossed in and out of sight, painting an impressionistic tableau against the fading lavender sunset.

As the evening darkened, our eyes cast upward towards the Richard B. Fisher Performing Arts Center and Frank Gehry’s wildly sculpted metal roof. Rapture- Part 2 saw two male dancers from La France’s company (Gary Lai and Kevin O’Connor) dangling from the top of the center harnessed by ropes. The duo, at times resembling flies, maneuvered to the accompaniment of Bora Yoon’s sound score all the while giving off the eerie impression that the metallic roof surface was alive and breathing.

Post-Festival Thoughts from Dance Artist and DAB Participant Muna Tseng:

DAB 2007 brought together our independent voices in the choreographic world to meet in an idyllic "summer camp" setting, fostering such open exchanges that can only happen when one meets other colleagues over morning coffee, or dorm-room late night soirees, giving time to really exchange and dialogue. All of us were challenged to our core as artists, teachers, and learners from each other and from our students too. Critique sessions were tough and illuminating. We are human beings deeply, vigorously, stubbornly engaged in the vital role of being part of a dance community that has to survive somehow, against all odds, thriving also on each other's energies and the sold out houses of an enthusiastic audience that seemed hungry in the rural setting for urban/international artists in their ‘ hood’. It was a testament to art living on - the affirmation of the dance we all dance.

FOOT NOTES: from Catlin Cobb

The Dance Across Borders alliance has created another web. Small ventures create threads. Collaborative projects develop until the next festival emerges.

During September and October of 2007 Amy Swanson and Fabrice Dugied of France, along with Estonians Tiina Ollesk and Rene Nommik performed in Göteborg, and nearby villages of Sweden.

In 2008 Sara Gebran will work in Göteborg for a few weeks in the format of a residency.

In April Molissa Fenley and Fabric Dugied performed together in Paris.

Students who participated in DAB 2007 are performing with Sondra Loring and Bryan Hayes. Hayes will perform in Canada with Mireille Feyzeau and Julie West.

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