In the United States today, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to keep dance companies, especially contemporary modern dance companies, afloat. I started my dance career in grass roots companies that couldn’t promise me a set amount of cash for my performances, let alone rehearsals. It never bothered me, I did it for the experience and the networking. Eventually, I found myself working for a mid-level company in Chicago that could pay me for some rehearsals, always paid me for shows and even gave us per diem when we toured. I think I can safely say that I have run the gamut when it comes to the types of performances I have done and the money it has (or has not) gotten me.
When my good friend Michael asked me about starting our own company (or artistic partnership as we like to call it) I was excited but anxious about where this could lead. We had both served on boards for other dance companies, had both planned our fair share of fundraisers and produced more than just a spattering of our own shows. It seemed that this be the natural step. But how were we going to make this company different? How were we going to set a foundation that had the potential to prosper? In the words of one of the cheesiest musicals ever, “You Got A Get A Gimmick.”
And so RE|Dance was formed (that is Riner/Estanich Dance in long hand for the curious) in 2009. We are still a fledgling company that is working on it’s not for profit status and considering what our board of directors might look like, but we do know one thing for sure: We are creative partners dedicated to the presentation of dance theatre works that explore personal, intimate human relationships through long distance collaboration. Yup. That’s our claim to hopeful fame. Michael is a professor of dance at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. I am the dance program director of Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois and the dancers that we have working for us now live in Chicago, San Francisco, Madison and the Twin Cities. We come together for intensive rehearsal processes that last about a week or two and then we all go back to our home bases and reflect on that process. This same cycle occurs several times within the creation phase of a work until it’s time to be performed.
It’s definitely an unconventional way of working but it has its merits. No, we do not see each other on a regular basis for class and rehearsals, so we have to really stay connected via video, internet, and phone to talk about the work, ask questions and plan. We have found that working in this manner has opened pathways to making dances that have developed characters and rich emotional content. We spend anywhere from 40 to 50 hours immersed in the learning of movement phrases, partnering and identifying the themes and motifs that are part of the work and then we are able to step away from each other, sometimes for a few weeks or months only to come back with a deeper understanding of what we were creating. We have found that our process works much in the same way as a writer’s might; to step away from his or her work and come back to it later to reread and reevaluate the words on the page.
Yes, there are challenges in determining when everyone is available for our intensives and yes we have to be committed to staying in contact with each other in our times apart to discuss video footage, journaling and any other production aspects that might come up for the work. But long distance collaboration also has many benefits, especially for our fledgling company, in that it is generally more cost effective (no, we still aren’t at a place to pay for rehearsal time) because our time is so condensed. Dancers do not have the same time commitments as other companies might ask of them. When we do come together, it can feel very much like a travel adventure for the dancers in the group that are coming to a city they are not yet familiar with. At these early stages of our development we can pay our dancers for their performances and offer them other perks of the job (free lodging, food, and other amenities) when we are together. But the idea is that in collaborating across state lines, we build an audience base that is not dependent on any one city we visit, but that builds upon itself with each city we perform in. Where most companies work towards building a budget that allows them to tour, we are dependent on our touring to build a budget.
Michael and I knew we could work successfully with each other based on our history, so making dances while he was in Stevens Point and I was in Chicago did not feel very risky. We also realized that through both of our combined dance experiences, we had dance friends in about 12 different states. Creating a company that could collaborate and share shows with some of our cross country connections has made for more performance opportunities as well as allowing us to curb our production costs when we can share a show. We get to bring our art to other places in the US and those cities are exposed to what contemporary modern dance looks like in other parts of the country. So far, it’s been a win/win for all.
So that is how RE|Dance has become another chapter in my life. Is our long distance collaboration gimmick a ground-breaking idea? Hardly. But it has provided RE|Dance with a successful first year as a tiny dance company trying to make it’s mark. It all starts with an idea…..
If you are interested in knowing (and seeing) RE|Dance when we come to a theater near you, here is our summer touring schedule and become our fan on Facebook as well!
June 4, 5 and 6 in San Francisco at the Dance Mission Theater
August 6-10 in Minneapolis as part of the Fringe Festival (Southern Theater)
Sept. 3-5 in Chicago as part of the Fringe Festival (theater TBA)
And later this fall in Madison and Stevens Point Wisconsin