It's high time. Until recently there was only one local outlet exclusively devoted to producing area modern dance choreographers' work: Contemporary Dance Theater's ubiquitous annual Choreographers Without Companies show each June at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
Enter the Choreographers Collective. Spearheaded by locally based choreographer Diane Germaine with an impetus from Judith Mikita, who teaches at CCM in addition to creating her own original works, the collective arose from various needs within the local dance community.
Germaine and Mikita not only want works to be seen more often, but to present smaller-scale pieces in an appropriately intimate venue. Relieving some of the pressure of a big-venue, one-weekend-a-year event becomes a factor, too.
"(Smaller pieces) could be excerpts that stand alone from a larger work or they could be things that were made for this 'small gems' concert," Germaine says. "I've been working with some local dancers for years, and they kept saying they wanted to dance more, and I felt, well, here's an opportunity: choreographers who want to do more work, and there are dancers who want to dance more. We should try and do this, try and make a collective and get it done. But we have to start somewhere."
The collective's initial efforts come to fruition in the group concert Small Streams 1, featuring five diverse works from area choreographers as well as some hailing from Louisville, Chicago and New York City. Germaine, however, says that for future shows, out-of-towners will likely play more of a guest role.
Both founders have works in the show: Germaine, a New York City native, offers a triptych of solos for three dancers that explores the drama of life in New York City with its noise, crowdedness, isolation and post-9/11 emotions running high.
Mikita performs "Happy Town Suite" in collaboration with poet Keith Wahle. Through movement and text, the piece examines the arc of a single life from childhood to an impending end.
"I think both of us expressed a desire to have kind of a laboratory workshop ongoing," Mikita says. "Something in which we can try our developing pieces or rework old pieces. ... In the music or art world, works of art are seen over and over again, and in contemporary dance, they vanish. So it's great to have another go at something that you feel is successful and could be again."
The collective's open nature also welcomes new talent to the area. Choreographer and award-winning dance educator Ka-Ron Brown Lehman relocated to Cincinnati from Los Angeles last July, and the timing was fortuitous: Soon after her arrival, CDT Director Jefferson James suggested she attend the Choreographers Collective's initial meeting. She thought she'd be taking a break from choreographing while here, but she jumped right in. For Short Streams 1, she's presenting "Recurring Dreams," a new solo excerpt from a larger forthcoming work for dancer Danielle Shoreman.
Although the dance world here differs from Los Angeles' in demographics, scope and more, Lehman says, "There's that thread: If you're a dancer, they say it's a small world, and it is. You end up (knowing each other)." She met longtime local choreographer and movement therapist Fanchon Shur who's from California, and it turns out they know some of the same people.
"What I appreciate about the Cincinnati dance scene is that the community seems to be very embracing of each choreographer, dancer, teacher," Lehman says of her initial impressions of the local situation. "It seems like a family."
And like a family, members often leave the nest for other cities and opportunities. The issue of retaining talent is well known to area businesses, but it applies to the local dance microcosm as well.
"Hopefully it will keep dancers in the area — that was the big thing," Germaine says. "Traditionally people either wind up leaving the area because there isn't enough to do or they wind up doing something completely different and stop dancing. There are some good people around; they should be doing stuff."
Mikita echoes these sentiments and says it's also about trying to keep the pool of choreographers rich in the city.
"I've often seen the migration of dancers through Cincinnati, and without an opportunity to perform and to work with choreographers, we lose them," Mikita says.
Keeping the process fresh also feeds the desire to create and perform. In addition to an annual Short Streams concert, Germaine talks about future hopes for a larger "umbrella" festival that might run a couple of weekends and include local dance companies.
Mikita says, "Not only does the individual dance take shape as it goes, but even a collective like this will take shape as it goes. How the concerts are produced and by whom and who's in them will continue to evolve and shift, and I like that malleability of this structure.
"I think oftentimes with the creative process people can talk about it, but it's putting it into action that makes a difference." ©
CHOREGRAPHERS COLLECTIVE presents Small Streams 1 at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday at College Hill Town Hall.