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Nicole Harris: This is your first time participating in NACHMO Boston. What are you most excited about? What makes you the most nervous?
Dani Robbins: I'm most excited about participating in NACHMO because of the timeline--I think a huge part of a creative practice is sometimes making yourself available to create small projects quickly and with less self-judgment than projects with more luxurious timelines. There's an important set of skills buried there--following your intuition, making choices quickly, removing the second-guess impulse, celebrating your taste. I'm thrilled to be participating in NACHMO because I think so many of those deeper creative skills come to the surface in a collapsed timeline like one month. Now following my own advice on that is what I'm most nervous about...
N: You run a dance program at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME. From what I understand it’s a fairly unique program. Can you tell us about it?
DR: I'm really lucky to be teaching as an adjunct at College of the Atlantic right now. COA is a tiny liberal arts school where every student receives the same credential: a degree in Human Ecology. This makes for really well-rounded students that take everything from contemporary dance technique, to marine biology, to conflict resolution or poetry. I'm working to make the dance curriculum as interdisciplinary as the model of the college. Dancers and choreographers write, draw, and heal. They are political, they are scientists, they are active citizens. I try to replace the term "dance practice" with "embodied scholarship practice" as much as possible.
DR: To be honest, my rural location in Bar Harbor has been the singular largest challenge to my work as an artist for the past four years. It's difficult to make a 6 hour round trip to take class, see a show, or connect in-person with a larger dance community. However, I feel that I'd choose being a rurally-based artist again and again, because it has pushed me to develop a creative community for myself. That often means reaching beyond circles of "dance people" and engaging community members who might not have a long history with contemporary dance. That's where some serious magic happens, and it's allowed me to foster relationships with families, schools, students, seniors etc. I'm excited about the opportunity NACHMO provides to connect with the larger New England dance community, as that's something I really crave. I'm finding that being a rural artist just means casting your net for community a little further.
N: You were artist in residence at Acadia National Park. Tell us about your experience!
DR: I was really lucky to participate in the Acadia National Park Artist Residency program back in 2019 alongside a close collaborator of mine. We spent lots of time doing sensory-based work in the National Park (lots of tourists wondered who the folks laying on the rocks were...) I think the residency really challenged us to consider our relationship between our bodies, colonization, and the concept of "property." I feel grateful to have had that space as an emerging artist.
N: There are so many incredible local choreographers here. Who are some of your favorites and why?
DR: One of my favorite Boston-based choreographers is Betsi Graves. I feel really lucky to have studied with Betsi as a young dancer through Urbanity Dance. I really think of her as a whimsical genius--she builds a captivating world for each dance to live in with its own delightfully bizarre logic. I also love to share space with Scott McPheeters, who is based in Biddeford, Maine. Just a radiant human. His movement really captures the expansive joy of dancing.
N: We recognize how important mentors are to artists at all stages of their careers. Who are your mentors and how have they impacted your trajectory?
DR: One of my closest mentors is actually a Boston-based dancer, teacher, choreographer, Jaclyn Thompson Waguespack. Jaclyn and I met when I was really young, and in a very tender place in terms of my relationship to dance. She offered me a pathway through dance that was healthier and served my growth as a whole person. It's been a huge gift to grow together as artists.
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!
Nicole Harris: Collaboration can be rewarding and difficult. What is one great moment and one challenge you’ve faced during this process?
Jackie Bowden: One great moment we had in our collaboration process was finding our vision for the piece itself. We had a great time coming up with topics and discussing issues we have in society today. One challenge we faced with this collaboration was communication. It’s difficult to translate feelings and ideas associated with a piece since we do not share a brain, a lot of thoughts and feelings get misconstrued in the process.
N: Kaleidoscope was started by yourself and Jessica Prince just a couple of years ago. What made the two of you want to create work together? What are the commonalities between your individual choreographic styles?
JB: We both danced together throughout our years at Salem State University. A few times before we even graduated we joked about creating a company together and how great it would be. Once school was over, we wanted to find an outlet for our choreography. What once felt like a far future dream turned into a current reality and we decided to finally put in the work and get Kaleidoscope going! We both enjoy the process so much of choreographing pieces. Our work has both similar elements that bring us together and unique elements that set us apart.
N: As co-directors, how do you create work? Do you choreograph things together? Do you each tackle different projects? If so, how much impact does the other choreographer have on your work?
JB: As co-directors we have a sort of give and take approach to our work. We do keep our pieces separate for the most part and it’s also great for when we have a block in our creative process to bounce ideas off of each other.
N: What other local companies and choreographers do you recommend people check out? Why?
JB: We recommend people check out Angelina Benitez and her work. She helped Kaleidoscope Dance Company get started as a dancer and has since ventured off to create her own work and perform in various performances!
One of my favorite things about my job is that amazing people like Gracie (Nozama) and Jen (OnStage) reach out to me when they have exciting projects like Empower One Another and ask me to interview the artists and host their post show conversations!
Get your tickets to see six female run dance companies/choreographers on April 13th. You can catch the matinee, check out the Spork (post show conversation) with yours truly and then head over to the Dance Complex just in time to see karen Krolak's I-ARE Residency Showcase in the evening! It's a perfect day of dance! But first, check out this fabulous interview with Gracie Novikoff about Nozama's role in this show and her experiences in collaboration! (More show at ticket info at the bottom of this post!)
Nicole Harris: Collaboration can be rewarding and difficult. What is one great moment and one challenge you’ve faced during this process?
Gracie Novikoff: When Jen (of OnStage Dance Company) and I were coming up with the concept for “Empower One Another”, we were primarily driven by the idea of bringing Boston dance companies and independent choreographers together. We wanted to not only promote collaboration, but support for one another and to build a network in which directors can share the highs and lows of managing a company in Boston. With that, the overwhelming reward of “Empower One Another” has been to see six companies share their visions, talents, and experiences to work together and create beautiful new art. I am also thrilled to see the companies creating works under the themes of female empowerment, as this is what drives my company Nozama Dance Collective’s entire mission. At the same time, working with others can be tricky when you all have strong, powerful ideas that are worthy of being shared. With our partner company, Kaleidoscope Dance Company, they are also directed by not one but two incredible women. Along with my co-director Natalie, that makes four collaborative partners with bold ideas. Finding space and time for all four of us to be heard in this process has been tricky, especially when even the co-directors disagree with one another! But overall, that challenge has made me even more proud of this process.
N: In addition to collaborating in the studio you have been collaborating with OnStage on this entire project. What is something you’ve learned through this experience?
GN: Working with Jen from OnStage Dance has been a gift. She is not only an experienced instructor and choreographer, but studio owner. She also single-handedly runs a 60 person company, which is a phenomenal feat. Jen juggles all of her tasks and jobs so seamlessly, and I have learned an incredible amount from her. She has taught me about prioritization, time management, and how to push beyond one’s limits. Our partnership materialized into “Empower One Another”, which is such a dream and accomplishment to me. I cannot wait to see what else our partnership creates!
N: Where did the idea for this concert come from?
GN: Unfortunately in the Boston dance community, there is not nearly as much support between companies as we would like to see. Companies do not often attend one another’s shows, or take one another’s classes. Companies are insular, and do not often collaborate or help one another with things such as fundraising or networking. Jen and I wanted to tackle that, and bring companies together to collaborate and share one another’s gifts and creative visions. At the same time, we wanted to help form a network between Boston dance company directors and choreographers. Managing a company is hard work, and doing it without any support is nearly impossible! Having the six company directors meet for a Round Table Discussion about how we all tackle the challenges of managing companies was a massive priority for Jen and I. The “Empower One Another” performance is the exciting culmination of this collaboration, but we know that the partnerships will last beyond the show as directors continue to lean on one another for support.
N: Where else can we find you this Spring/Summer?
GN: Nozama Dance Collective has a lot of exciting things coming up! We are launching our Spring Company Class Series, in which we will teach master classes at Green Street Studios on 3/18, 4/19, 5/6, and 5/20. Additionally, we have our annual concert “Uplift” at Green Street Studios on August 9th and 10th. We are also looking forward to performing in a few festivals and concerts around Boston, so keep an eye out for us!
N: What other local companies or choreographers do you recommend people check out? Why?
GN: SO many! It is so hard to pick just a handful. The Boston dance community is filled with incredible talent, visions, and creativity. Personally, I am drawn to choreographers who tell poignant, empowering stories about the female experience through their work. Putting the other artists of “Empower One Another” aside, I am forever drawn to Colleen Roddy’s choreography. I am also inspired by the work of Luminarium Dance, particularly because that is another company managed by two incredible women who collaborate together so well. But honestly, if you have a free night, just check out the Dance Complex or Green Street Studios and check out whatever is happening! There is no bad dance experience out there. Support other artists! They will support you back!