The Dance Enthusiast Asks Allison Brzezinski, Founder of ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival
A Celebration of Female Choreographers at Solar One on the East River, NYC
ChEckiT!Dance presents the 5th annual ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival: A Celebration of Female Choreographers, an eco-friendly evening of dance celebrating female choreographers, on Saturday, July 18, 2015 at 5pm at Solar One on the East River, NYC. Admission is free! For more information, check out the event listing HERE.
Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Hey, Allison! What constitutes an “eco-friendly evening of dance”?
Allison Brzezinski, Founder of ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival: The ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival is considered an eco-friendly evening of dance, mostly because we do not hand out any paper materials to the audience in attendance. No tickets are handed out, as this is an admission-free event, and instead of printed programs, we provide an e-program that lists the performance order, information about each piece, company, choreographer, how to contribute, and of course, information about our sponsors. Also, it is an outdoor festival, with a picnic type atmosphere, which makes for a pleasant, “green” event.
TDE: Tell me more about the performance venue, Solar One! Why the move after the past four years at Summit Rock in Central Park?
AB: The past four years at Summit Rock have been wonderful, but as the years went on and the festival grew and audiences increased from 100 to close to 500 in attendance, we had to ask the question: Does the space still serve for the evolution of the festival? 2015 was the first year that the answer to that question was no.
We are excited to present the festival at Solar One! as their mission matches the festival’s goal to be eco-friendly, and the venue also offers a variety of amenities that will greatly enhance the experience for the audience and the performers. This will be the first year where we will have a full sound system and microphone, not just a portable speaker. Solar One! also allows us to have a stage which means the festival can now feature other genres of dance besides modern and contemporary, which is very exciting for us.
TDE: I'm so pleased for you girls!
While equal opportunities are indisputably skewed between genders, I’d (ignorantly) imagined this chiefly applied to corporate sectors. Tell me about creating performance opportunities for women in the dance world. If anything, I'd thought it was somewhat easier for us.
AB: ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival was created as a way for female choreographer’s to have their voices heard. I see so many female choreographers who are looking for an opportunity to get their work shown in New York City and beyond. I have seen many struggle in terms of finding the perfect venue for their work, their target audience, obtain funding et cetera. I feel that similarly to the corporate sector, a lot of the higher-tiered dance companies are run by men or are built under a male choreographer’s name. Sometimes men have greater access to resources and funding than women, and funding is a major factor when creating large scale performances, especially for non-profit companies. In addition, there is a void in terms of female mentorship and programs that provide that type of guidance for female dance makers.
The goal for ChEckiT!Dance is to empower women by promoting gender equality through our own work and to create a platform for emerging and mid-career female choreographers to share their talents. Beyond celebrating women, one of the main goals for the ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival is to create a community of female artists who can continue to work together and know each other’s work. There is always the hope that this opportunity will lead to many more creative endeavors in the future.
TDE: Have you ever felt stifled as an artist owing to your sex? What's your story?
AB: My story... I was born and raised in CT with many strong, supportive women in my life who served as role models. I have a strong background in theater as well as movement. In college, I began making pieces that centered around being a woman, what that meant and how society played a part. I began exploring the idea of certain societal constructs that frame “being a woman” very specifically, and I had a great time cracking those open. I was startled to see that the glass ceiling had not truly been broken and that there was still a lot of progress to be made. That interest further continued when I moved to the city in 2010 and founded ChEckiT!Dance.
ChEckiT!Dance creates work about women and tries to bridge the gap between the sexes. Since the dancers are an integral part in the creative process, their stories are woven together with my vision/concept to create pieces that hopefully have more global meaning for both women and men. We try to reveal the societal structure of how women are seen to empower others, and to raise awareness of the constructs that are still in place.
I have not felt stifled as a female artist and choreographer. I feel very fortunate to have the support of my dancers, the artistic community and an interested audience. I have, however, felt that some have underestimated me due to the fact that I am a petite, young-looking female. All of those factors influence how people perceive me as an artist, a business owner and a woman. Some people find this to be intimidating; some fierce and admirable. All of my experiences and explorations of the societal ideas of what it means to be a woman have made me aware that there is no right way to be a woman, and that is something I want to share with our audiences to empower others.
TDE: What has been your highest hurdle as the founder of this festival?
AB: An outdoor performance of this caliber is always going to come with challenges. And we have faced and overcome them all (knock on wood!) by adapting and conquering in the moment -- but that is why we have chosen the path of live performance! We have dealt with issues obtaining funding, website glitches, miscommunications, lost traveling choreographers and dancers, poor sound systems and of course injuries.
One of the biggest hurdles we faced was in 2013. A dance was in the first minute of performance and there was a dead stop, our portable speaker had run our of battery power and there was nowhere to plug it in. I had to quietly speak to the choreographer and ask her to count out her piece or hum the music to the dancers, so that they would be on the right time, as this piece was very much organized by counts. The dancers had to start from the top of the piece, this time with the choreographer, humming, singing, counting and directing them as if the dancers were her orchestra. It was a very humbling experience and turned out to be the talk of the festival. I will never forget the standing ovation and how the dancers came alive due to the technical mishap.
This year two ChEckiT!Dance company members have suffered from injuries and cannot dance, so my newest obstacle will be to create a new piece that shares with the audience what ChEckiT!Dance means and does in just one rehearsal. I am thrilled by the challenge and all the other ones that will come my way for our Fifth Annual ChEck Us OuT Dance Festival.
Share Your Audience Review. Your Words Are Valuable to Dance.
Are you going to see this show, or have you seen it? Share "your" review here on The Dance Enthusiast. Your words are valuable. They help artists, educate audiences, and support the dance field in general. There is no need to be a professional critic. Just click through to our Audience Review Section and you will have the option to write free-form, or answer our helpful Enthusiast Review Questionnaire, or if you feel creative, even write a haiku review. So join the conversation.