N: You have been working not only on creating a budget but on developing a 5 year budget plan. Can you talk a little about what you’ve learned about Alive and the company’s values through that process? What was something surprising that came out of planning and dreaming years in advance?
BB: Breaking down the budget and looking ahead has really solidified the community connections we want to have. Whether that’s our internal community of members, our connection with other area artists, or our partnerships with local nonprofits and organizations, our budget reflects a desire to honor the work of those we’re connected to currently and hope to connect with in the future. This is an important value for Alive and one that our budget clearly celebrates.
One of the priorities in the 5 year plan is putting money back into the hands of our own artists. While Alive is a “passion project”, it still requires a lot of time and energy from those involved, and that work deserves to be compensated. Paying the administrative team for their hard work and removing the out-of-pocket fees for members to pay for rehearsal space are big priorities in our new budget, and when broken down over five years, are achievable goals (which was surprising!). Rather than starting with what we ideally want to see these individuals paid, we’re building in stipends over time to gradually increase the pay until, in five years, it’s where we want. The Monkeyhouse Spring Fling Fundraiser is allowing us to get this process started and we’re beyond grateful!
N: Through the Vault grant you are receiving mentoring from Monkeyhouse. Can you talk about something you were nervous about going into that process? What have you learned so far? What are you still hoping to dig into?
BB: Luckily for me, I know and love the Monkeyhouse team, so I didn’t feel any nervousness going into the process-only excitement! I know that karen and Nicole value meeting people where they are and helping people and organizations reach their goals as opposed to forcing ideas upon them, so I felt eager to explore! I’ve been most interested in the conversations around how to build community, as that’s something that’s very important to me. There’s always more to explore there and I can’t wait to keep talking about that!
N: Why is mentoring important to you? Think a bit about the mentoring you have received in your life and where it has come from. Think especially about unexpected relationships or mentoring that has come from completely outside of your field. Can you tell us a bit about one specific mentoring experience and the impact it has had on you?
BB: Mentoring is important to me for many reasons. Talking about dance strengthens the work, resulting in more accessible, interesting, and engaging choreographies. While formal mentorship has been an important part of developing pieces, I have particularly enjoyed the more “casual” peer-to-peer mentorship I’ve received throughout my dance career. These moments happen often; in rehearsals, over text, on car rides, etc. I love sharing my work with Alive members and other dancers I know well and discussing what’s happening. Having these conversations with those close to me allow me to think deeply about my work and what I’m presenting. I also often am able to get feedback from close friends who aren’t dancers, which is also immensely valuable. Alive strives to have work accessible to all, so hearing from a non-dancer what they’re taking away from choreography helps to shape the work.
N: Who is your community? Why does community matter? What makes you feel part of the community? What do you want to see to make the community feel more connected?
BB: Alive’s current community consists of our members, our audiences, the artists we work with in the area, and the local organizations we partner with. Community is important because connection is innately human and life works best when we come together. Existing in a vacuum does not result in satisfaction or larger success; community is needed to make that happen. For me, feeling like part of the community comes from connections that feel safe and working towards common goals. I hope that over time the community Alive is creating becomes more integrated. For example, this past season our workshops at The Somerville Community Growing Center were attended by the Growing Center’s community, whereas Alive’s performance was attended by our community. In the future, I hope that both communities (and more!) attend all events and create one large community to learn, grow, and connect with. Alive plans for sustained partnerships with local organizations to allow this to happen.
N: Land acknowledgements are often given for the spot you are on in the moment, but we’ve all occupied land for our entire lives. Where are you from? Where are you living now? Where does the majority of your work take place? Whose land is it? How does the land you are on impact you as a human and as an artist? How has place shaped the work you are making?
BB: I grew up mostly on Wabanki land, but now live on the land of Massachuset and Pawtucket people, which is also where the majority of Alive’s work takes place. Place has definitely shaped work we’ve made, particularly in our recent show Bloom. In that production, all of our work related to nature; Audrey choreographed a piece inspired by hiking the White Mountains, Tova’s piece pulled from her explorations around her neighborhood to watch the summer sunsets, I choreographed a piece filmed on Nahant beach, and Lila filmed her piece in the Somerville Community Growing Center. Land is something to which we all have connection, so creating work inspired by it allows for choreography that is accessible to our audiences.
Learn more about Brenna here. Learn more about NACHMO, take the #MonkeyhouseNACHMOChallenge, and learn about where you can see these artists’ work by following NACHMO Boston and Monkeyhouse on social media!
Nicole Harris: NACHMO Boston has stretched itself in a whole lot of ways in the last few years. After needing to switch to creating dance films last year there are now three different tracks available for choreographers this year and choreographers are coming to NACHMO Boston from all over New England! What are you most excited about with all of this growth and change? What roles are you hoping NACHMO can play for the artists in our community?
Brenna Banister: I love that NACHMO Boston has grown and adapted over the years that I've run it. It feels like every year we're able to offer something more that benefits the choreographers we work with. For me, the excitement is in hearing how NACHMO Boston has impacted people in their choreographic journeys. We hear time and time again about how mentorship has offered so much to people, how they've met and deepened connections with other artists through NACHMO, and how this is an important time they take to set aside and create. Mostly, I hope that NACHMO creates community within Boston. I hope for artists to find people they can connect with and who enhance their artistic exploration. Whether that's someone they talk to about dance frequently, artists they collaborate with, or someone they just check in with now and again. All forms of connection are valid and offer us as artists a chance to deepen our work and practice. It's my opinion that often artists get lost in a small bubble or their own internal space, and growth and expansion happen when we connect with those around us
Where do you find the creative energy with everything else you do to keep NACHMO Boston up and running during the month of January? Where do you turn when that creative energy is running low?
BB: It feels really ambitious to create while running NACHMO Boston! For the first few years I ran NACHMO I absolutely refused to also choreograph. However, I think due to my injury (mentioned later) and so much time of inactivity, I'm itching to do something creative right now. I also always find that NACHMO inspires me. The mentorship sessions keep my spirits and creativity up. Even the sessions where I don't show my own work offer me so much inspiration and motivation. Additionally, using the Creation track this year takes some of the burden off. I can create as much as works for me, and not feel pressure to come up with something that feels very "complete" and ready to present. Finally, working collaboratively with my dancers helps to keep ideas flowing and sharing the process with them allows for me to have rehearsals where I come in less prepared and see where the movement takes us!
N: You have been dealing with an injury for the last few months. How do you plan to tackle choreographing alongside this new obstacle? What are you most excited about for this new approach? What are you most nervous about?
BB: Yes; in October I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I 10/10 would not recommend! I still won't be able to move much in January- walking is my expected limit. I plan to build my piece very collaboratively, which is an approach I've grown to love. However, this time I won't really be able to contribute my own movement. I'm excited to see what the dancers develop and watch them create instead of creating alongside. It will be fun to see their movement develop! As for nerves, I don't have many! I feel pretty connected to the dancers I'm working with so I feel confident that they'll be able to interpret my ideas without me being able to move and that they'll offer many of their own wonderful ideas!
BB: It's been so great to rotate Alive Dance Collective choreographers for the past few NACHMOs! I think it gives a chance for our group to get that kick in the pants and start the year off with someone different each year. Additionally, I'm so excited for added mentorship requirements. I hope that mentorship helps members of Alive find their voices and bolsters their confidence, while also connecting individual members of our collective with more members of the Boston dance community.
N: Last year you shared your love for Evolve Dynamicz, Ruth Benson Levin & Lynn Modell, Kristin Wagner, Monkeyhouse, Sasso and Co, Public Displays of Motion, and Ryan P. Casey. Who are some local artists you specifically met through NACHMO that you love? And why?
BB: I meet so many people through NACHMO! Jessica Roseman is someone who I got to know much better through Mental Health Happy Hours last year. She's a lovely person and I love how she works to make movement accessible to broader communities. I was able to attend one of her Nourish days at LexFarm and was so inspired! Also, Anne Goldberg-Baldwin is a NACHMO connection for me and I'm so fascinated with how her film last year combined her background in figure skating and dance. It was so beautiful!
By Nicole Harris
N: In addition to being the NACHMO Boston regional director you were inspired to choreograph a piece this year! What made you excited about your idea?
BB: I initially started off the year not intending to choreograph. My first year as regional director I also choreographed and danced in a piece, and it was far too much for one month! However, once the month got rolling I was so excited by what everyone else was doing that I wanted in. A prompt put forth by NACHMO HQ this year was to dance with a piece of paper constantly connected to your body and the ground, and I found that very appealing. That was how the first phrase of my piece was created and I went from there!
I’ve also learned that organizing is key, having help makes everything more exciting (yay Monkeyhouse!), the Boston dance community needs more positive experiences with what mentorship means, and that choreographers are always excited by this opportunity. My favorite part of NACHMO is seeing new connections being formed!
N: This year’s NACHMO was different than past years. What was one of your favorite moments? What was something that went a little sideways?
BB: It was certainly different but so wonderful! I loved forming connections in the small groups of the Mental Health Happy Hours. It was amazing to form real, deep connection in a time when connection was so hard to come by. I also loved all of the group mentorship sessions. Each one was unique, but the current running through all of them was how kind and thoughtful people were about offering insight and feedback to each other. I left each session feeling inspired and full of admiration for the community that was created.
I try to pay these gifts forward by having a door open to talk about dance and life with the younger generation that I was lucky enough to get to know through a few years of teaching dance. Plus, by offering mentorship opportunities at NACHMO Boston with the goal that they feel as safe and fortifying as mine do.
N: It is important to us that we continue to lift up other artists in our community. Who are some of your favorite Boston area choreographers? Why?
BB: There are so many! Evolve Dynamicz, Ruth Benson & Lynn Modell, Kristin Wagner, Monkeyhouse, Sasso and Co, Public Displays of Motion, Ryan P Casey, and more!
N: We are so thrilled to be in Malden! Do you have any connections to this fantastic city?
BB: I unfortunately have not spent a lot of time in Malden, except for one time in Summer 2020 when my partner and I kayaked in the Mystic River. It was a beautiful day towards the end of the summer and was a new spot for us. I'm looking forward to returning to kayak again at some point this year!
N: You have recently taken over NACHMO Boston. How did that come about?
B: NACHMO Boston has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since its conception here in Boston. I have danced with Jess Muise, the former organizer, in a number of different settings. She approached me last year to let me know that she would likely be moving on and asked if I would be interested. I told her that with the support of Alive, I would be so excited to host such a wonderful dance opportunity in Boston! Alive looks forward to NACHMO every year and we’re thrilled we get to share that in a new way this year.
N: What are you most excited about for this year’s National Choreography Month?
B: I’m always excited to see what everyone else brings to the table and the work that’s created. The connections made are always fun, and it will be so exciting to experience all of it from the driver’s seat.
N: You come from a traditional jazz, tap, ballet, modern background. How does that range of styles impact the work you’re building today?
B: I think having a wide knowledge base allows me to pull from many different areas and helps me to not feel boxed in. Although I don’t perform Tap very often, it is one of my heart’s biggest pleasures, and I find that my Tap training comes out in my Contemporary choreography, particularly with how I hear and interpret music.
N: What changes in your process to build a piece in such a short time span (one month)? How long do you usually take to create work?
B: Creating work really varies for me. The piece that I started on Alive in July 2014 (“Shallows” or “The Pit”) took over two years (off and on) to complete. However, it is not uncommon for me to create something in a month if there’s an impending deadline. When I have to create work quickly, I usually start with an idea that is more fleshed out or less abstract. That way I either have already done some of the journey involving the concept of the piece, or there’s less of a complicated journey to take when thinking about the work. Then, I will usually create the choreography and teach it to the dancers. I usually incorporate less improv or collaborative building when there’s such a tight deadline, but I constantly talk to my dancers and other friends about the piece to gain ideas and inspiration. And sometimes, with a deadline, I just have to make a decision and can’t wait for the decision to come to me. One of my mottos is: “we can always change it later,” and I find myself reminding myself of that regularly during NACHMO. Nothing is set in stone, and sometimes making a decision actually gets you closer to what you want than sitting around waiting for the right answer to appear out of thin air.
N: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
B: I’m a big Kate Jablonski fan. I love her combination of technique and artistry and unique athleticism. I also love Emma Portner and Michelle Dorrance. In addition, I’ve loved Wayne McGregor’s work that I’ve seen, and I adored Yury Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors” and hope to see more of his work. Plus, he and Kathleen Breen Combs have the cutest baby!